I wanted to let you know that AFSCME members in state government have voted resoundingly—by a margin of 96 percent to 4 percent—to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement with the State of Illinois.

The tentative agreement between AFSCME and the Quinn Administration was reached in the early hours of the morning on February 28. Over the past three weeks, every union member had the opportunity to review the terms of the settlement and to vote on ratification at hundreds of worksite meetings held across the state.

The settlement came after more than 15 months of extraordinarily tough negotiations. It was achieved because thousands of union members engaged in a range of powerful grassroots actions that clearly conveyed our union’s determination to secure a fair contract.

Those were 15 very frustrating months for all of us. State employees know better than most that the State faces severe financial problems—and the proposals that the Union brought to the bargaining table took those fiscal woes into account.

But the Administration came to the table with reams of proposals that didn’t save the state a penny and were solely intended to weaken workers’ rights on the job, including making it harder to file grievances, making it easier to fire employees, and undermining seniority.

Of course, they also had many proposals that were intended to save money—by taking it out of employees’ pockets! They wanted to eliminate all funding for the Upward Mobility Program, eliminate roll call pay in DOC and DJJ, make all employees work a longer day for the same pay, and take away holidays and vacation time.

When it came to wages, Management’s proposals were even more draconian. They demanded that every employee’s salary be reduced by two pay grades. And they insisted there would be no pay raises or step increases for the entire term of the contract.

And, of course, there was the Administration’s effort to drastically drive up employee health care costs—requiring employees to pay thousands of dollars more for their health coverage.

For months, virtually no progress was made as the Administration held fast to its insistence that state employees made too much money—and must lose ground.

Very early on it became clear that these were not negotiations that could succeed merely by the determination and commitment of the AFSCME Bargaining Committee—though the Committee had both in abundance. Progress would require an extraordinary effort by AFSCME members, standing up and taking action at the grassroots.

And “extraordinary” is just what happened. From one end of the state to the other, time and again, AFSCME members came together in solidarity at their worksites—for pickets, protests, and direct actions. And you didn’t stop there. Many AFSCME members joined in the Quinn Truth Squads, groups that came together—often on very short notice—to show up at Quinn’s public appearances and tell the real story about his mistreatment of state workers.

All of those actions produced some progress at the bargaining table—but not enough. So union members made a commitment to do “whatever it takes,” including the possibility of going out on strike.

Once it finally became clear to the Administration that union members were prepared to do whatever it took to protect their standard of living, the tenor of negotiations dramatically changed and Management at last began to make a serious effort to reach a settlement. In those last weeks, the Bargaining Committee’s firm resolve, strong commitment and sheer tenacity were critical to beating back virtually all of the onerous proposals that Management still had on the table—and to reaching an agreement of which we can all be proud.

Before agreeing to settle the new contract, the AFSCME Bargaining Committee insisted that the terms of the previous contract be honored. The Administration agreed to drop its appeal of the circuit court ruling in the AFSCME pay case and to place all employees at their appropriate wage level effective July 1. The Administration also agreed to work with the Union to lobby for a supplemental appropriation in the current fiscal year to pay back wages owed.

By now, you certainly know the general terms of the new contract settlement, which can be accessed on the AFSCME website. As soon as the final document containing all the agreements is ready, the contract will be signed—and it will become effective on the date that it is signed.

Truthfully, I couldn’t be more proud of what union members accomplished in this fight for a fair contract. The Administration tried mightily to downgrade employees’ pay and lower their standard of living, but you firmly resisted those assaults and protected the economic security you’ve worked so hard to attain. In that process, we’ve all learned more about the strength we possess when we stand together and fight together. As a result, our union will be better prepared and better armed as we face the many challenges that yet confront us in the days ahead.

In solidarity,

Henry Bayer
Executive Director