In This Bulletin:
• Affordable Health Care in Jeopardy
• Management Wage Proposal: 0%
• Defending Hard-Won Gains
• Fighting Layoffs and Closures
• Sequestration: Strange Word, Bad Consequences
• Pension Debate Continues
Affordable Health Care in Jeopardy – The AFSCME Bargaining Committee returns to negotiations with the Quinn Administration on Monday, February 25 in a last-ditch effort to move the negotiating process forward. For months now the Administration has been insisting on massive increases in health care costs for active employees and retirees.
The Union Committee has indicated a willingness to make reasonable changes to the health plan that would not unduly burden employees. But Management has held to its insistence that the changes must be on an unprecedented scale.
Management is demanding changes that would significantly increase health care premiums—as well as co-pays and deductibles—in each year of the contract. Over the next three years, employees with family coverage would on average pay an ADDITIONAL $9,972 above what they are now paying in health care costs. This figure is based on Management’s proposed increase in monthly premiums, as well as increases in almost every category of co-pays and deductibles. It is calculated on average health care utilization; a family that faced a health care crisis or a serious chronic illness would incur even higher costs.
And under Management’s proposal, health care costs would continue to increase automatically in future years because employees would be required to pay a fixed portion of the state’s total health care costs, rather than a fixed dollar amount. Right now employees pay about 16% of the state’s total premium cost, but under Management’s proposal, employees would have to pay 40 – 55% of the state’s total premium cost.
Employees who are nearing retirement would find themselves facing completely unanticipated health care liabilities. Management’s proposal would increase premiums for a retiree not yet on Medicare with a pension of $40,000 and a covered spouse to $742/month—or over $8,500/year.
Medicare-eligible employees would still have to pay a premium of $425/month for their state health insurance supplementary coverage.
Management Wage Proposal: 0% – The steep increase in health care costs that Management is pushing for at the bargaining table is doubly disturbing because the Quinn Administration is also refusing to agree to any general wage increase over the three year term of the contract.
Steps would be frozen until FY 15—and the wage increase owed from the last contract would not be paid until fiscal 2015 either.
In fact, the only increase of any kind that the Administration has offered is a one-time $200 bonus in the third year of the contract.
And Management is still demanding other concessions that would impact some employees even more, including: elimination of overtime pay for roll call in IDOC and IDJJ; elimination of all tuition reimbursement in the Upward Mobility Program; big cuts in pay for out-of-state Revenue Auditors; elimination of call-back pay and stand-by pay for employees in former merit compensation titles.
Defending Hard-Won Gains – AFSCME members are dedicated public servants—and we want to be able to continue to provide high-quality services to those who rely on us. But we can’t care for others if we can’t care for our own families. That’s why state employees have begun to consider whether it will be necessary to go out on strike in order to defend the standard of living we’ve worked so hard to attain.
A strike is a last resort. The Union’s contract proposals have been fair and modest—in recognition of the state’s severe financial constraints. Time and again the Union Bargaining Committee has sought to reach a compromise. But the Quinn Administration has remained adamant that employees’ standard of living must go down.
If your Bargaining Committee believes that progress at the bargaining table appears to be at an end, it will ask you to vote to authorize a strike. No strike will occur until members who are eligible to strike (all employees except RC-6) have democratically voted to give the Bargaining Committee the authorization to call a strike.
If a strike is authorized by a majority of those voting, your Bargaining Committee will make a final effort to reach a settlement. If that effort fails, the committee will then set a strike date.
But let’s be very clear: AFSCME members would much prefer to reach a fair contract settlement at the bargaining table as we’ve done with every other governor down through the years. If we go on strike, it will mean that we’ve been left no other choice to preserve the economic security we’ve worked so hard to achieve.
Fighting Layoffs and Closures –
DCFS – AFSCME members in DCFS won a months-long battle to prevent hundreds of layoffs when the Illinois General Assembly finally acted to pass a supplemental appropriation for that agency in early February. As promised, the governor immediately signed the measure.
IDES – IDES is pushing forward with its plan to close down seven offices and lay off nearly 200 employees. The department claims that these cuts are necessitated by a reduction in federal funding, but AFSCME’s analysis suggests that the planned cuts and layoffs are much steeper than the federal funding cuts.
While AFSCME members are seeking to enlist jobless workers, veterans groups and local elected officials in opposing the cutbacks, the Union has also worked to expand members’ rights to other jobs should the layoff go forward.
In addition, AFSCME has challenged the way that the layoffs are being conducted, twice forcing the department to postpone layoff dates to correct procedural errors that the Union identified. To date, the Union does not believe that the errors have been corrected, thereby impacting employees’ rights, and is demanding that IDES go back again and fix its errors before laying anyone off.
DOC/DJJ – DOC and DJJ are continuing to push forward with facility closures that threaten to destabilize the state’s criminal justice system. All youth were transferred out of the maximum security Joliet IYC and the facility officially closed its doors last week—but not before the outbreak of a fight that injured several youth and staff.
Now the Department of Corrections is attempting to speed up the closures of Dwight CC. As part of that process, inmates are being moved out of Logan CC—and sent off to be housed on gym floors at several other facilities, greatly increasing instability at those facilities.
All of this movement is occurring even though the recent closure of Tamms CC is already causing increased tensions and violence in prisons throughout the correctional system. The John Howard Association, a prominent prison reform organization, recently issued a statement in opposition to the Dwight closures noting that “Illinois risks losing the significant investment we have made in creating this rehabilitative environment that protects public safety.”
DHS – AFSCME members at the Murray Developmental Center are continuing to work closely with family members of the residents who are opposed to Governor Quinn’s plan to shutter the facility. Last week the Murray parents association joined with families from other state-operated facilities to file a lawsuit challenging the planned closure.
Sequestration: Strange Word, Bad Consequences – There’s a lot of talk coming out of Washington, D.C., right now about the threat posed by sequestration. That’s the sledgehammer approach to budget-cutting that Republicans in Congress are turning to. Both parties agree that it’s important to tackle the federal budget deficit, but President Obama and Democratic lawmakers insist it has to be done a way that balances program cuts with revenue-raising measures.
Sequestration would require cuts across the board in just about every federal program—and that’s the path that Republicans are now leading the nation down. That’s bad news for all citizens, but it’s particularly bad news for state and local government employees. Many of the federal programs that will be cut in the coming weeks provide funding to state and local governments. If their budgets are cut, then Illinois state government could find itself facing additional cuts—and possibly more layoffs—as well.
At the national level AFSCME has joined with a broad array of labor, business and civic groups to oppose sequestration and to press for a sensible approach to deficit reduction. But Congressional Republicans appear unwilling to compromise and there is a very real danger of very massive federal funding cutbacks in the months ahead.
Pension Debate Continues – With the beginning of a new legislative session in January, Senate President John Cullerton was quick to introduce a new pension bill. SB 1 includes the key elements of HB 1447 which passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House. The union coalition, We Are One Illinois, opposes this measure which would significantly reduce the annual pension Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for all employees and for current retirees.
Last week, Representative Lou Lang introduced HB 2375 which takes a different—and less onerous approach. Lang’s bill would increase employee contributions by 3% and raise the retirement age to 67, but it would not cut pension benefits, either for employees or for those already retired. However, the legislation would eliminate any form of state-supported health care benefits once retired state employees are eligible for Medicare.
In response to requests from a number of legislators, We Are One Illinois has developed legislation that codifies part of the plan that the union coalition put forth several months ago. SB 2404 would not cut any retirement benefits—neither pension nor health care. It would raise employee contributions by 2% over two years, provide an ironclad guarantee that the state would make its pension contributions going forward, and establish a Pension Stabilization Fund to generate additional revenues toward paying off the pension debt.
It’s critical that AFSCME members act now to keep the pressure on their state legislators to oppose any pension bill that has not been agreed to by the We Are One Illinois union coalition. There are over 40 newly-inaugurated legislators. So even if you’ve already made calls to legislators, it’s critical that you call again.
Via: Henry Bayer, AFSCME Council 31