Having spoken and commiserated with so many Kane County probation officers and youth counselors over the past month-and-a-half, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to see them back at work. But that solace is sorely tempered by the fact that this strike, the only one of its kind in Illinois history, never should’ve happened.
In an effort to avoid being doomed to repeat history, let’s examine the series of missteps that not only instigated this insipid snafu, but made it last three times longer than it really had to.
It all starts with Chief Judge Susan Clancy Boles consistently mistaking a vast tailwind for talent. I’m not saying she doesn’t have her moments, and acquiring a law degree is no small task, but as a fourth generation Clancy attorney, most of what she’s “earned” has come at the hands of her family name.
At least she isn’t another former prosecutor, but she didn’t stand out in private practice, she was a mediocre litigator, and without that Clancy name, she never would’ve been appointed judge. When you don’t have to struggle to succeed, those inevitable insecurities tend to make everything about you.
And that’s exactly where this strike started. Instead of leading by example, Judge Boles took everything personally, which made her want to crush the “insolent rebels” who had the temerity to reflect poorly on her.
It wasn’t just her, either! Court Services Director Lisa Aust was more than happy to hop on that arrogant bandwagon and our dynamic duo managed to convince themselves that:
- The probation workers didn’t have the nerve to walk out
- They knew how to handle a public-sector strike if they did walk out
- Any strike would be a short one
- If the strike wasn’t short, they could bust the union once and for all
But they got it all wrong and Court Services clearly wasn’t nearly prepared for the realities of a strike.
Boles biggest mistake was dispensing with crack Kane County labor negotiator Carl Tominburg in favor of a family connected attorney. It’s not that the friends and family methodology is necessarily a bad thing, but it only works if those folks are reasonably competent, and this guy was not. His idea of compromise was to regularly resort to name calling, which made the strike far worse than it had to be.
Tominburg is one of the few attorneys who understands the vast nuance of collar county government, and he knows when NOT to be an attorney. Had he been the County negotiator, there never would’ve have been a strike.
Meanwhile, with both sides far closer than you might think, the new guy had Boles unleash the nuclear option just 10 days in. Threatening to hire replacement workers did nothing but harden the strikers’ resolve.
You see, what Boles and Aust didn’t know is, before that boneheaded move, the strikers had set a June 1 return to work deadline. They actually understood how Kane County government works and they were more interested in making a point than getting a raise.
Instead, it got so bad so quickly, a number of strikers told me they’d go back to work for no raise if Boles and Aust simply resigned. That says it all, doesn’t it?
Then we had Juvenile Justice Center Superintendent, Mike Davis, doing his best Xfinity Fairy Tales Support Group impersonation (it’s a TV commercial). He told the County Board they barely noticed the strikers’ absence. That utterly unnecessary and mendacious statement further infuriated the probation workers and the battle lines were drawn.
But it was Aust’s second-in-command, Jeff Jefko who single-handedly sent the strike into overtime. More than one source regaled me with tales of his closed-door meeting with Teamsters 330 President Dominic Romanazzi quickly descending into the kind of shouting match that makes Gordon Ramsey look like Kelly Ripa.
Romanazzi, a generally mild-mannered individual, was so incensed by Jeffko’s needless attack that Teamsters 330 decided to pay the strikers’ insurance through June to the tune 53 grand. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Perhaps Boles finally did learn something as her press release heralding the end of the strike was conciliatory and positive. But it’s too little, too late. The relationship between Boles, Aust and the people they employ will never be the same.
Had they toiled in the private sector, Bole and Aust would be swiftly shown the door for presiding over this kind of debacle. One could ask for their resignations, but since they have no capacity for self-reflection, it would be pointless. They think they did nothing wrong.
And that’s what’s truly frightening about all of this.
Though they weren’t as bad as our dynamic duo, on Friday, we’ll discuss how Teamsters 330 had no idea of how to handle a public-sector strike, either.