By Jermaine Nolen

More than 1,500 employees of Cook County’s health care and sheriff’s departments walked off the job Tuesday morning after their union was unable to come to an agreement with the county over pandemic pay and working conditions.

Outside of Stroger Hospital, chants of workers demanding hazard pay nearly drowned out Joseph Richert, SEIU Local 73 secretary treasurer, as he said it is unconscionable that 10 months into a global pandemic that union members were still demanding proper protective gear.

“This is crazy and the county needs to act now,” Richert said.

In a statement Friday, SEIU Local 73 — the union representing county health technicians, service and maintenance workers, and sheriff’s office employees — alleged the county has refused to bargain in good faith for nearly three months, walking out on negotiations, canceling dates or refusing to set them. County officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The workers are demanding pandemic pay for essential frontline workers — with a $5 per hour raise for those in COVID-19 units or taking care of coronavirus patients — and stipulations for PPE and social distancing, including allowing employees to work remotely when possible.

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