As you know, for weeks now Governor Rauner has attempted to make frontline state employees the scapegoats for Illinois’ fiscal woes. He’s paired his misrepresentation of the facts on employee wages and benefits with an equally dishonest attack on the unions that represent public employees. You can click here for a fact sheet that refutes the governor’s claims.
Last week the governor took his hostility toward state workers and their unions to a new level – issuing an Executive Order that some in the media swiftly pegged as nothing more than a “war on workers.” The EO purports to uphold state employees’ free speech rights, but in reality it’s part of Rauner’s wholesale effort to drive down wages by weakening unions in Illinois.
The EO barred the enforcement of the Fair Share fee provisions in union contracts covering state workers – impacting employees represented by 28 different unions. The governor justified this blatantly illegal act based on his personal ‘ruling’ that the fees are unconstitutional – even though they are authorized in state law and the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld their constitutionality.
Fair Share provisions are intended to ensure that all employees who are in a bargaining unit and therefore benefit from union representation – whether at the bargaining table, in labor-management meetings, in the grievance process – contribute toward the cost of that representation.
In what one legal scholar has called “absolutely bizarre” reasoning, the governor’s EO alleges that bargaining for improved wages and benefits for state employees is a violation of the free speech rights of state employees who are Fair Share feepayers who he claims object to such wage and benefit improvements.
Ironically, as soon as the governor issued his Executive Order, many AFSCME local unions reported that Fair Share feepayers were requesting cards to become full members of the union. They know that the governor’s real agenda is to eliminate unions in state government – and that he doesn’t speak for them.
AFSCME and other unions responded swiftly to the governor’s stunning abuse of executive authority. AFSCME said in part: “Bruce Rauner’s scheme to strip the rights of state workers and weaken their unions… is a blatantly illegal abuse of power… Illinois is still a democracy and its laws have meaning.”
And unions were not alone in questioning the validity and purpose of the governor’s executive order. In a widely-applauded display of independence and integrity, Illinois’ new comptroller, Leslie Munger, announced she would not withhold the Fair Share fees as directed by the governor but would continue to transmit them to the unions. Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General, backed up the Comptroller’s stand, issuing the following statement: “We agree with the Comptroller. Fair Share fees are constitutional under the current law and she must follow the law.”
But Gov. Rauner remains determined to confiscate the money – and has since announced that he is directing state agencies to find a way to withhold the funds – even though payroll employees are already questioning whether there’s any operational means to allow for such withholding.
AFSCME and the other affected unions will, of course, take legal action to challenge the governor’s Executive Order. But how tragic for the citizens of our state that even as Illinois confronts a serious fiscal crisis, it appears that its governor is making the “bizarre” twists and turns of this confiscation policy his top priority.
The governor’s efforts to weaken unions and drive down wages is not limited to public employees. He’s also launched an attack on workers and their unions in the private sector – threatening the prevailing wage agreements that are essential to maintaining fair wages in the construction industry and promoting so-called “right-to-work” laws that would have the same effect on private sector unions as his Executive Order barring Fair Share fees for state workers.
Moody’s Analytics recently issued a report disputing Gov. Rauner’s claim that such anti-union laws would help Illinois. Moody’s pointed out that in fact, these laws “shift the balance of power from employees to owners” and “tend to erode wages and lead to a more uneven distribution of the gains of economic growth.”
The political arena in our state is already far too heavily tilted toward the uber-wealthy. While trying to prevent public employees and their unions from having a voice in the political process, Governor Rauner says nothing about the outsized influence of big business in politics – with some $2 billion in revenues lost to our state every year due to corporate tax breaks.
It is no coincidence to be sure that the governor issued his Executive Order on the first day of contract negotiations between AFSCME and his Administration. Clearly he wanted to signal his lack of respect for the bargaining process. But the AFSCME Bargaining Committee was undaunted. Our union is firmly committed to that process – and we are determined to uphold its integrity.
These will undoubtedly be tough times for state employees. You are often already struggling to do your job without adequate staffing or resources. Now, the plain truth is that you may face a struggle just to protect your right to have a union – a union that can continue to work to improve working conditions, to challenge privatization of state services, to ensure your rights on the job and to protect your standard of living.
Illinois is the land of Lincoln, that great defender of working people. We’re not going to let our state be hijacked by the super-rich or let our unions be wrecked by them.
Over these past months I’ve talked with AFSCME members all across Illinois. They tell me they have a renewed commitment to defending our union, to standing together with others in the labor movement, to protecting the economic gains we’ve all worked so hard to achieve. After hearing from so many, I can tell you this much with certainty: We’ve never been more unified or more determined.
Via AFSCME Council 31