100Standing together for a fair contract – Negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement are moving slowly. The Rauner Administration has made dozens of harmful proposals that would make state workplaces far less safe and less fair. The Administration is seeking to take away hard-won protections and drastically undermine the union’s ability to advocate for employees.

That’s why AFSCME members at worksites across Illinois are coming together for Unity Day tomorrow, Thursday, April 30. With buttons, t-shirts, jackets and signs, we’re making sure our workplaces are ‘100% Union’. Be sure you’re ready to join in. If you haven’t already gotten the information about the unity action in your work area, check with your local union for more information.

While no economic proposals have yet been exchanged across the bargaining table, the governor has already told legislators that he wants to cut $700 million from the group health plan—and those “cuts” would result in steep increases in employee health care costs. Rauner’s also made clear that he wants unfettered privatization. One of his top economic policy advisors was the architect of the scandal-ridden privatization of state prisons in Florida—and he’s looking to bring that same unaccountable private deal-making to Illinois.

Bruce Rauner has said his goal is elimination of all union members in Illinois in the next four years. And he’s boasted that “I am one of the baddest enemies anybody can have. … When I set a goal, we do it.” But AFSCME members have proven our mettle time and again, and we’re not going away.

We’re on the frontlines every day providing vital services that citizens depend on. We’re nurses and caregivers for ailing veterans and individuals with severe disabilities. We’re the correctional employees who keep prisons safe and secure. We protect at-risk kids and respond to emergencies and natural disasters. The work we do is vital to our communities.

That’s why we’ve launched the AFSCME Friends and Families Network. AFSCME members all across Illinois are reaching out to elected officials, church leaders, small businesses, members of other unions and other supporters in their communities—and, of course, to their own friends and family members. Be sure to check in with your local union to get your Friends and Families Network sign-up cards, window signs and yard signs.

Budget blues – There are no signs of progress on the challenging task of shaping a budget for the FY 16 fiscal year. But there are clear indications of the troubles ahead. Earlier this month Governor Rauner “green-lighted” more than $100 million in special tax breaks for some of Illinois’ biggest corporations in this year’s budget while cutting off grant funds for dozens of vital programs for people in need, such as aid for autistic children, burial funds for the indigent, and teen after-school programs.

The governor’s proposed FY 16 budget looks like more of the same. It leaves more than $2 billion in corporate tax breaks untouched while making steep cuts to many state agencies, state universities, and nonprofit disability agencies. It also cuts by 50% the portion of the state income tax that goes to local governments. AFSCME is lobbying against all these cuts, making the case to legislators about the damage they would do.

Every reasonable person knows there is no way to produce a balanced budget without some form of new revenues. But the governor’s insisting that before there can be any consideration of new revenues, legislators must first take actions that harm working people, such as cutting workers’ compensation benefits, cutting unemployment benefits, and limiting union rights. Fortunately, so far many Democrats in the General Assembly are saying ‘no way’—and even some Republicans seem reluctant to go along.

AFSCME is part of a broad coalition of forces that is pressing to revamp Illinois’ tax code by passing a constitutional amendment that would allow for higher taxes on the wealthy. But that can’t be done in time to fix this year’s budget mess, which will likely require new revenues cobbled together from a variety of sources.

Turn down Rauner’s ‘Turnaround’ scheme – A key front in Governor Rauner’s war on Illinois workers is his attempt to pressure cities, counties and other local governments to adopt a resolution backing his so-called “Turnaround Agenda”. At the heart of Rauner’s game plan is the establishment of local “Right-to-Work” zones. Such zones have only one purpose: to weaken unions by allowing employees represented by a union to opt out of paying any dues or fees toward the cost of that representation.

Other elements of Rauner’s resolution include barring public employees from participating in politics, eliminating prevailing wage agreements on public works projects, cutting benefits for injured workers and prohibiting public-sector bargaining on key issues such as health care benefits and subcontracting.

Rauner and his wealthy friends know that strong unions not only raise wages of their own members, but help to set a higher wage standard for all workers. The Wall Street ratings agency Moody’s said, “Since laws that hurt unions shift the balance of power from employees to owners, they tend to erode wages and lead to a more uneven distribution of the gains of economic growth.”

Rauner’s been travelling the state trying to pressure local elected officials to back his scheme. But union members from every walk of life are fighting back—and winning! From Naperville to Vandalia, they’ve packed city council and county board meetings to speak out against the damage Rauner’s “agenda” would do to their communities.

And increasingly, local governments are defeating or refusing to take action on Rauner’s resolution. Just this week, more than 500 union members—from AFSCME, the Laborers, Operating Engineers, IBEW and many other unions—turned out for a meeting of the Jefferson County Board in Mt. Vernon. Adam Deadmon, a member of AFSCME Local 203 at Centralia Correctional Center, was one of the Jefferson County residents who presented powerful testimony urging the Board to reject Rauner’s anti-union agenda. And by the end of the evening, the Board did just that, failing to get a single board member to make a motion in support.

Every state employee has a stake in blocking Rauner’s initiatives in the town where you live. Come out and make your voice heard if your village board, city council or county board puts the Rauner anti-union “turnaround” agenda on its agenda.

Big decision due in pension case – The ‘test case’ for slashing the pension benefits of all public employees in Illinois is now before the state Supreme Court—and a ruling could issue any day. The case was brought by AFSCME and our union partners in the We Are One Illinois coalition to challenge SB 1, legislation that makes steep cuts to the pension benefits of employees and retirees in the SERS, SURS and TRS pension funds.

The state is arguing that Illinois’ fiscal crisis is so severe that it allows for overriding the provision of the Illinois constitution that prohibits diminishing public employee retirement benefits. Union attorneys dispute that claim, pointing out that the architects of the constitution clearly intended to protect public employees from the kind of pension fund raids that brought about the state’s current fiscal woes.

We already won the first round in this critically important union battle when the Sangamon County Circuit Court found SB 1 unconstitutional. The state appealed that ruling directly to the Illinois Supreme Court. Briefs were filed months ago, and in early March, the Court heard oral arguments. Now a ruling is anticipated no later than June.

Governor Rauner is already trying an end-run around the Supreme Court. He’s built into his budget some $2 billion in “savings” from cutting employee pensions based on a scheme that would shift all state employees onto the Tier 2 pension plan for the remaining years of their state service. AFSCME fought vigorously against the Tier 2 formula when it was enacted in 2010 because it is not sufficient to assure a secure retirement. His plan would have to be enacted by the General Assembly and thus far there seems to be little support for it there.

But his plan makes clear that whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court case, the battles to protect the pension benefits so critical to security and dignity in retirement are far from over.

Back pay bill on the move – AFSCME is continuing to press for passage of a supplemental appropriation that would provide the needed funds to pay back wages still owed to thousands of state employees in five agencies. House Bill 3763, sponsored by Rep. Sue Scherer (D-Springfield), passed the House on April 15 by a vote of 88-23-2. The measure, which would provide funds to cover all outstanding amounts owed, now goes to the Senate. All affected employees should contact their state senators to urge a YES vote on HB 3763.

Anti-union bill – Senate Bill 981, now before the Illinois General Assembly, is purportedly aimed at preventing patronage abuses. But in reality, it would take away from many public employees the right to be represented by a union, as well as undermining the entire collective bargaining process. Specifically, the bill:

Broadens the definitions for confidential, supervisory and managerial employees, thereby taking collective bargaining rights away from thousands of public employees.
Provides that the Personnel Code would control if in conflict with collective bargaining agreements. Changes to the Code or Rules would override anything that had been negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement.
Excludes all Rutan-exempt employees from collective bargaining rights, without regard to their actual duties.

AFSCME lobbyists at the State Capitol are working to defeat SB 981.

Reorganization legislation – AFSCME is also opposing House Bill 574, legislation that would:

Privatize some of the functions of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO);
Merge the Historic Preservation Agency into DCEO; and
Make the Lincoln Museum an independent entity.
The union is concerned that the bill as currently written does not provide sufficient protections for affected employees, putting their jobs and rights at risk. In addition, the privatization provision would weaken accountability and transparency in the state’s economic development program.

Ethical issues – Earlier this year Governor Rauner issued an Executive Order on ethics that has caused considerable confusion. AFSCME pointed out that the order made changes that must first be negotiated with the union. The State confirmed that AFSCME bargaining unit employees are not required to submit the Supplemental Statement of Interests that they received from the Executive Ethics Commission until such time as bargaining over the EO has concluded.

Agency labor relations representatives were present when EO 15-09 was discussed during state contract negotiations and Central Management Services has since reinforced this to all state agencies. Subsequently, the Executive Ethics Commission sent state agencies the following message: “Please be advised that AFSCME bargaining unit employees will not be required to submit the Supplemental Financial Disclosure Form by the May 1, 2015 deadline if negotiations on this issue are not concluded prior to that date.”

Employees will be notified of a new date if and when the Supplemental Statement is due. If employees have concerns, they should check with their agency labor relations representative or their agency ethics officer and, if there are still concerns, they should contact their local union.

Court order halts fair share confiscation – After attempting a dubious scheme in which the gross salaries of Fair Share feepayers were reduced as a means of withholding those fees, the Rauner Administration seemed to realize that its efforts to confiscate the fees intended for unions representing state employees were hitting a brick wall. The Administration entered into negotiations with AFSCME and the 26 other unions that filed suit in St. Clair County Circuit Court to invalidate the Rauner Executive Order which required that the fees be confiscated, and the result was an Agreed Order issued by the Circuit Court that bars withholding of Fair Share fees while the unions’ case is pending in court.

On February 9, Rauner made national headlines when he issued an Executive Order banning the deduction of the fees from state employee paychecks, even though Illinois law clearly authorizes such deductions. Rauner claimed to be defending the free speech rights of the affected employees, but his real complaint, clearly stated in the executive order, was that unions have been too effective in improving workers’ wages and benefits.

Fair Share fees, paid by employees who do not join the union, are intended to ensure that every employee contributes to the cost of all of the union’s work from which they benefit.

Every day more and more feepayers are signing cards to become full dues-paying union members. More than 1,500 feepayers have joined the union in the three months since Rauner issued his Executive Order.

Courtesy of AFSMCE Council 31