2002: Business - Muni workers’ union out to halt privatization

The union representing municipal golf course workers in Cook County, Ill., is trying to thwart a recently approved contract that privatizes operations.

Daniel Stefanski, secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 762 in Chicago, said the union has filed a grievance with the county and could seek court action to block the takeover by Billy Casper Golf.

Stefanski said the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which operates the 10 courses and two practice ranges, violated the collective bargaining agreement covering course workers in nonmanagement positions.

The district’s contract with Billy Casper Golf was to start with a transition period beginning Aug. 1, with full transfer of responsibilities to the management company scheduled for Jan. 1. Privatization will remove about 200 course workers from the district’s payroll, including 70 full-time, union-represented laborers, according to Stefanski and district officials. Though superintendents are not included in the union, they are among the employees who will lose their jobs.

Stefanski said the Forest Preserve has breached Section 7 of the collective bargaining agreement. The clause states the district has “sole discretion” on subcontract labor, but subcontracting “cannot be used to undermine the bargaining unit.”

John H. Stroger Jr., president of the county commission, and a majority of his fellow board members supported privatization in an effort to boost golf revenues and improve course conditions. Cook County commissioners also serve as the Forest Preserve’s board, and Stroger is president of both panels.

Regardless of the union’s objections, county officials said the union’s grievance can’t stop the transition from proceeding.

Billy Casper Golf plans to run a nonunion shop and offer wages much lower than the average $13 per hour course workers make with the district. BCG president Robert C. Morris said maintenance laborers will be paid comparable to employees at other courses in the area. A superintendent at a district course said the going rate at privately run layouts is about $8 per hour for grounds crews.

Directly affected by the transition is union member Tim McGinty. With 15 years of full-time service on the grounds crew at Meadowlark Golf Course in Hinsdale, Ill., McGinty wants to protect his benefits, pension and $15.31-per-hour wage, which would be reduced under BCG. McGinty said he “wasn’t happy” with privatization but believes there is little chance the union can stop it.

“It’s pretty much a done deal,” he said.

But Stefanski is more determined.

“I’m not accepting privatization of the courses,” he said emphatically.

“What’s really insulting is that they bring a nonunion company into a union town and don’t expect any type of fight on their hands,” Stefanski said of the district commissioners’ decision to award a 10-year contract to Vienna, Va.-based Billy Casper Golf.

With the Forest Preserve and BCG about to begin the transition period, Stefanski said he was considering several legal maneuvers, including seeking an injunction in Cook County Circuit Court or filing a complaint with the state labor board.

The district’s decision to privatize was spurred by an outside audit last year that showed the golf operation lost $1.5 million in 2000. The district’s courses now are breaking even, district officials said in an article in the Chicago Tribune. Under BCG’ 10-year plan, the deal is projected to be worth $17 million to the district.





















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