Teamsters members working for years without a pay raise conducted an informational picket Friday morning outside the Lake County Government Complex's main entrance.
Some 20 county highway department workers who are members of Teamsters Local 142, got smiles, hellos and handshakes from Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, one of the three county executives with whom they are locked in contentious negotiations for a new labor agreement.
"They've got a legitimate complaint," Scheub said.
"All of our employees, who haven't had raises, have a legitimate complaint. These guys make less than other highway workers. I met with them Thursday and gave them a proposal, which they didn't accept. but I don't begrudge them for that," Scheub said.
The highway department, like other branches of county government, has been downsizing in recent years as property tax revenue has shrunk under state mandates, and a poor economy has reduced the number of people who can afford to pay their taxes.
Larry Regan, local president, said, "They haven't had a pay raise in six years. Some of these guys haven't had one in eight years. They do the road repair and clearing and overhaul highway vehicle engines. They are a first responder when it comes to snow removal. Police and ambulances can't get through without them."
Other union members said they have saved the county $40,000 in fuel and other operational costs by agreeing to work four 10-hour days during summer weeks instead of the usual five eight-hour days. They said austerity measures have eliminated 10 jobs in the department, but not the workload.
Regan said members also have agreed to reduced retirement benefits from the county.
"They just want something back in return. They were offered a proposal with some incentives, but they voted it down because we want to recover what they lost," he said.