At a special meeting on July 7, the state panel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board voted unanimously to rebuff the Rauner Administration’s attempt to bypass a recommended decision from the administrative law judge who presided over the five weeks of testimony regarding unfair labor practice charges filed by AFSCME and the Administration. The governor was seeking a drastically compressed timeframe for a final Board ruling, bluntly arguing that he wanted to be able to impose his terms on state employees by September so that he could begin shifting millions of dollars in health care costs onto employees.
Both the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and the Board’s General Counsel recommended denying the governor’s motion. The General Counsel explained that if the Board granted the motion to expedite the process, it would have faced a “staggering if not impossible” task in trying to meet the requirements of ILRB rules and the Administrative Procedure Act. Those rules would require at least three Board members to read the entire hearing transcript—which is over 5,000 pages long.
The ALJ indicated that she would likely issue her recommended decision in late August or early September, followed by time for the parties to file written “exceptions,” with final action by the full Board possible in November.
Who REALLY wants a strike?
This week the Governor’s Office accused AFSCME of pushing for a strike. But, in fact, it’s Governor Rauner who’s done everything possible to provoke a strike.
It was Governor Rauner who walked out in the middle of state contract negotiations back in January and has refused to return to the bargaining table. Rauner walked out for one reason only: He knew that the AFSCME Bargaining Committee was prepared to further modify our position in negotiations—and he didn’t want negotiations to move toward a constructive settlement.
Then when AFSCME sought a proven alternative to striking—allowing an independent, impartial arbitrator to resolve the contract dispute just as is done for tens of thousands of public safety personnel throughout the state, it was Rauner who made killing the relevant legislation his top priority, demonstrating once again that his real goal is to provoke strife.
And then when seven legislators from his own party called on Rauner to renew negotiations with the union, he bluntly refused, telling them an outright lie—that AFSCME had made a “last, best and final offer”—to try to cover up his determination NOT to work toward a fair contract settlement.
And, of course, there’s the clearest indication of all that Rauner is looking for a strike: His attempts to get the Labor Board to terminate the “Tolling Agreement” he signed to extend the terms of the previous union contract, paving the way for him to impose his own harsh terms of employment on employees, including:
- Four-year pay freeze;
- Four-year step/longevity freeze;
- 100% increase in health care premiums OR drastically higher co-pays and deductibles;
- Elimination of all safeguards against irresponsible privatization of state services; and
- Reductions in overtime pay, holiday pay, layoff protections, mandatory overtime limits, and other workplace rights.
Very few employees anywhere in this country have been hit with such a draconian assault on their standard of living, job security and workplace rights. Rauner knows his terms are deeply insulting and harmful to state employees who are on the frontlines everyday doing jobs that are often difficult, demanding, even dangerous. But he wants employees to have no choice but to bow down to him—or to go out on strike. That’s why AFSCME local unions have begun to reach out to every member to discuss the possibility of a strike over the coming months and how we can best prepare if it comes to that.
For many months Rauner was claiming that AFSCME members were refusing to agree to the “same” terms on which the Teamsters and construction trade unions had settled their contracts. When the union pointed out that the “same” terms had never been offered to AFSCME members, the Administration suddenly began using a different phrase. Now the governor is claiming that AFSCME members have been offered “substantially similar” terms.
Hmmm. Everyone knows what “same” means; but just what does “substantially similar” mean?
Is it “substantially similar” if the Rauner Administration’s contribution toward employee health care is 65% GREATER for members of the Teamsters than it would be for other state employees under the terms he’s offered AFSCME? Put another way, if you made $50,000 annually, would you think your pay was “substantially similar” to someone who made $80,000 annually? Not likely.
Nor can any of the other contract settlements Rauner refers to—mostly with building trades unions who have only a handful of members in state government—be considered “substantially similar” to the terms he is trying to impose on AFSCME members. In fact, while he’s criticizing “prevailing wage” agreements for local governments, Rauner signed “prevailing wage” agreements with 14 building trades unions that represent state employees. Under those contracts, if employees who work for private construction firms get pay increases, state employees will too. Over the past decade, prevailing wage increases have averaged 2% per year, so it is very possible that these employees will get pay increases of 8% over the term of the contract, while Rauner is demanding that AFSCME members get ZERO. Doesn’t sound too “substantially similar”, does it?
In all of their hype about “other settlements”, the Rauner Administration makes no mention at all of one contract settlement that in fact was “substantially similar” to the terms he’s trying to impose on AFSCME members: the tentative agreement he reached with the Illinois Nurses Association. Perhaps that’s because INA members rejected that agreement by a 2-1 margin.
Then there’s Rauner’s contention that AFSCME members would show love for his proposals if the union would just take a vote on them. In fact, AFSCME members feel just as strongly as INA members that Rauner’s terms are unfair—actually even more so. When Council 31 held more than 250 worksite meetings from one end of the state to the other, attended by thousands of state employees, to make sure that members fully understood the administration’s ‘last, best and final’ offer, participants completed surveys as to whether to accept any of the four core elements of Rauner’s proposals (four year-wage and step freeze, merit bonuses, doubling of health care costs and unfettered privatization). The results were a resounding NO—with 94% of respondents rejecting all four proposals.
November will be a big month for state employees. It will very possibly be the month that the Labor Board issues its final decision on whether to give the governor a green light to impose his contract terms. And, of course, it will also be the month that Illinois voters go to the polls to vote in races from the presidency of the United States to county board.
High on the list of concerns for state employees will be state legislative races. As he did in last March’s primary election, Governor Rauner has already begun to pour millions of dollars into these races, trying to elect or re-elect legislators who will back his anti-union Turnaround Agenda. Labor unions will never be able to match the big money that Rauner and his friends will spend, nor the TV ads they buy, trying to gain control of the General Assembly. But we have to do all that we can to make sure candidates who oppose him—and have stood with us in support of a fair path to resolve our contract dispute—are financially viable and have the people power on the phones and on the doors to counter Rauner Inc.’s control of the airwaves.
That’s where the AFSCME PEOPLE program comes in. If you’re not already a PEOPLE MVP, sign up now to help ensure that union-backed candidates can compete against the forces of Big Money. And whether you are an MVP member already or not, sign up for the AFSCME Green Brigade, union volunteers who will help reach out to voters in their communities and make sure they have the real facts about candidates for the General Assembly. We for sure won’t forget those legislators who voted against HB 580, seeking to block a fair, responsible state contract settlement and abetting Rauner’s plans to force a strike. The outcome of this election will have a profound effect on not only this contract, but on all the bargaining we will do in the future. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Stopgap budget plan
It’s far from perfect and still leaves many funding holes, but there’s no doubt that passage of the six-month stopgap budget is a plus for the citizens of Illinois. Our state was on the brink of chaos, without any assurance that schools would be able to open on time this fall. The budget compromise clearly demonstrates what Democrats in the General Assembly have said all along: That they are prepared to work in good faith with Governor Rauner if he puts aside his demands that are unrelated to the budget and aimed at harming working families. Unfortunately, the signals going forward are not good, as the governor resumed leveling attacks even before the stopgap budget was signed.
One man’s “waste”…
… is many men’s and women’s well-being. Governor Rauner recently boasted that he had cut over $800 million in “wasteful” spending from state government. Anyone who works for state government would know in a heartbeat that couldn’t be true. When reporter Rich Miller of Capitol Fax requested a list of the savings, he found it included cuts to child care, home health aid for seniors, a veterans’ home and many other vital programs. Not what most Illinois citizens would consider “waste”—especially those who depend on such assistance.
Update on travel payments
AFSCME has both a grievance and a lawsuit pending to try to compel the state to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars it owes to state employees who are required to use their own cars in the course of doing their jobs. Yes, those frontline employees who Rauner and his allies love to portray as overpaid and greedy have just kept on doing their jobs, running down their own vehicles, spending their own money for gas, day after day, month after month, while state agencies have refused to process their travel reimbursement vouchers, claiming the state budget impasse prevents them from doing so.
Now with the passage of a stopgap budget plan, it appears that the Rauner Administration may finally be willing to move these vouchers to the Comptroller’s Office—and it also appears likely that she is willing to pay them. None of the details are finalized yet, but at least there is a ray of hope that employees—some of whom are owed over $10,000—will finally be able to stop worrying about unpaid bills and cancelled credit cards.