Legal maze

It’s complicated. That much we can say for certain about our contract dispute with Governor Rauner. We are now in an unprecedented situation, one that will likely give rise to ongoing legal disputes as to what the employer can and cannot do. And, of course, it’s made more complicated by the machinations of the Rauner Administration.

First there’s the Illinois Labor Relations Board, appointed by Bruce Rauner, which has bent or broken its own rules and precedents trying to accommodate the governor.

On Nov. 15, with only the most cursory deliberation, the Board voted unanimously to ignore the recommendation of its own Administrative Law Judge who presided over months of hearings. She had found that negotiations between AFSCME and the Rauner Administration were at impasse on some issues, but not others, and recommended that the Board direct the governor to return to the bargaining table. Instead, the Board voted to affirm Rauner’s claim of impasse based on a single issue—subcontracting.

However, in its haste to pave the way for Rauner to move forward in imposing his terms on state employees, the Board failed to follow the proper procedures for issuing its decision.

That didn’t stop the governor from immediately beginning to fill up employees’ mailboxes with all manner of edicts—claiming that he could begin right away to impose his own terms on employees.

Now two state court rulings have made clear that he was wrong. In response to lawsuits brought by AFSCME, circuit court judges in St. Clair County and Cook County have each issued Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) that prevent Rauner from moving forward to impose his terms, at least until the Labor Board has followed the proper procedures for issuing its ruling.

That’s only a temporary respite, though, as the Labor Board could be found to have come into compliance in a matter of days. Then Rauner will almost certainly renew his efforts to impose his harsh terms—a four-year wage and step freeze, 100% increase in health care premiums, unrestricted privatization and restrictions on overtime pay.

Once the Board’s ruling is properly issued, AFSCME will file an appeal of that ruling in state appellate court and ask that court to issue a stay while the appeal is pending. Most Board decisions are not stayed by the courts, but if a stay is granted, that would block Rauner’s imposition of terms until the court rules on the appeal. Click here for a fuller description of the various legal proceedings.

As a question of what’s right, clearly, the governor should not move forward with trying to unilaterally impose his demands. What’s right is to return to bargaining and to negotiate, not dictate. The union has been standing ready to negotiate on any and all issues, and to modify our past proposals, ever since Rauner walked away back in January.

Getting ready

Since we know Bruce Rauner all too rarely does what is right, we have to assume he’ll rush headlong to impose his terms as soon as he legally can. And that means that state employees will have to accept those terms or go out on strike.

Earlier this year, AFSCME members attended meetings all across the state where more than 90% rejected the four key pillars of the Rauner Administration’s “last, best and final offer”—a four-year freeze on wages and steps, steep health care cost increases, a so-called “merit” bonus plan, and unrestricted privatization of state services.

That’s why AFSCME local unions are now beginning to put in place the procedures for union members to vote on whether to authorize your Bargaining Committee to call a strike. Every AFSCME member who is eligible to strike will be eligible to vote.

If a majority of members vote to authorize a strike, that does not necessarily mean there will be a strike. Your Bargaining Committee will continue to use every tool at its disposal to find an alternative path forward. But it does mean that if all of those measures fail, and the Committee feels the only recourse is to move forward to strike, union members will have made clear that they’re prepared to do so.

Click here for a fact sheet [PDF] on how to begin now to prepare if a strike is authorized.

Support from legislative leaders

For nearly his entire two years in office, Bruce Rauner has sought to use funding for state government, higher education, local governments, human services and other priorities as leverage to pass his so-called “Turnaround Agenda”—including demands like making it harder for workers hurt on the job to get medical care and recover lost wages, or stripping collective bargaining rights from public sector workers.

Now, however, media reports indicate that Democratic leaders John Cullerton and Mike Madigan are connecting the budget issue to a matter that really would improve the lives of thousands of Illinoisans: A fair settlement of the state employees contract.

“Contract negotiations between AFSCME and the Rauner Administration are making their way into budget talks,” WICS-TV reported. “In the last few weeks, we’ve heard Speaker Madigan request an update on the negotiations because the contract impacts the state budget.”

And on WTTW-TV’s “Chicago Tonight” program, Senate President Cullerton said, “The governor’s contract dispute with AFSCME has poisoned the well … He’s offered them no pay raises for four years, and to cut their health care”.

The end of overtime pay?

What’s Rauner really up to with his plan to change overtime policy? His administration has informed employees that they plan to impose a new regimen in which the calculation of overtime will only count hours actually worked. What the specifics of their final offer make clear is that holidays, vacation days, and sick days will not count in that calculation: “Only actual hours worked above 40 will be at the overtime rate.”

In other words, if you’re out sick one day, you can be mandated to work 16 hours the next day, but you won’t get paid overtime for those additional eight hours!

Worse, because Rauner’s “final offer” allows management to ignore overtime rotation procedures by picking who will be mandated to work overtime, you can be sure that employees in 24-hour facilities who have to use a sick day will be targeted to work overtime when they return. Managers will be making mandatory overtime assignments based on which employees took a sick or vacation day in a given week.

The $3 million lie

Bruce Rauner’s out to bamboozle Illinois residents in so many respects. His latest is the big lie he’s concocted about the economics of our state contract negotiations. For months Rauner was in the press claiming that state employees were demanding $3 billion in increased wages and benefits—a wildly inflated number which he presented without  a shred of evidence.

Now he’s out there with an even more preposterous claim—that the legal restraining orders (TROs) preventing him from moving forward to impose his terms on state employees are costing Illinois taxpayers $3 MILLION A DAY. Think about it: There are about 25,000 state employees who would be impacted by those terms. So Rauner is somehow planning to extract $120 per employee every single day once he’s able to impose his final offer?

Your opinion: Not wanted

The Rauner Administration is conducting another one of its employee surveys, claiming to be interested in employees’ concerns. That would be the same Rauner Administration that just set up a new division of CMS called LEAD whose goal is to “gain and maintain control over the workforce”.

It’s a safe bet that a majority of respondents to the last employee survey the Administration conducted some months ago did not indicate a desire for greater management “control” of their work lives. Nor is it likely that employees in that survey opted for another one of the LEAD division’s goals: to “invigorate management’s ability to discipline employees”. And we doubt very much that many of them agreed with the LEAD plan to reduce “union representation”.

In other words, the survey is just for show; the real action is LEAD, the new CMS division aimed at weakening employee rights on the job.

Privatization: More mischief

The Rauner Administration has continued a bad idea that started under Governor Quinn—privatization of the management of the Illinois lottery—and now we’re seeing the unsavory results. According to an investigation conducted by the Chicago Tribune, Northstar, the private lottery management firm, printed more and pricier scratch-off tickets, then pulled the games before all the grand prizes were awarded. The unawarded prize money was counted toward Northstar’s profit target. Previously under state management, about 90% of scratch grand prizes were awarded. Under Northstar it was only about 60%.

Update: We’re still not stupid

The Rauner Administration keeps touting the $1,000 bonus it’s offering to pave the way for the imposition of his harmful “last, best and final offer.” Does the governor think we don’t know that the terms he wants to impose would cost employees thousands of dollars? Does he think we can’t figure out that $1,000 now doesn’t begin to make up for the $5,000 to $15,000 he’s planning to take out of our pockets when his full final offer is imposed?

What about Rauner’s other “soft” terms—e.g. bereavement leave for the death of a child?  Well, that was actually a proposal made by the AFSCME Bargaining Committee. Same for the committees on workplace safety and workplace violence.

If Rauner really wants to ensure that employees have the bonus and the leave and other important rights and benefits, all he needs to do is return to the bargaining table and negotiate with us, rather than trying to dictate to us.

Courtesy of AFSCME Council 31