We’re committed to providing public services and securing a fair contract
With the expiration date of the current union contract nearing, the AFSCME Bargaining Committee is doing everything possible to reach a contract settlement that is fair to state employees and that can assure the continuation of the vital services on which Illinois citizens depend.
But after months of contract negotiations, Gov. Rauner shows no sign of compromise on his extreme and far-reaching demands:
He would eliminate restrictions on forced overtime, gut pensions, and drive our health care costs through the roof, all while freezing wages;
He wants to remove any safeguards against privatization schemes, opening the door to putting public services in the hands of profiteering corporations; and
He’s demanding changes that would undermine our union and weaken our ability to advocate for ourselves, the services we provide, and the people of Illinois who depend on us.
The union has proposed that both parties commit now to extending the terms of the current contract if negotiations proceed past the June 30 expiration date, but management has not responded to that proposal. Moreover, in recent weeks, newspaper headlines across the state have proclaimed the Rauner Administration’s apparent intent to follow through on threats the governor made many months ago to force state employees out on strike—or lock us out.
We’ve been through difficult negotiations before, and we’ve always been able to reach a fair agreement: In more than 40 years of collective bargaining, Illinois state employees have never been locked out or forced to strike. But we’ve also never had a governor who vowed to “shut down state government” if he didn’t get his way.
In the light of these developments, last week the AFSCME Bargaining Committee made the unprecedented decision to pursue passage of legislation that would prevent the governor from irresponsibly forcing a strike or a lockout. Senate Bill 1229 would prevent the disruption of public services by providing for interest arbitration as a means of resolving an impasse in contract negotiations—the same process that already exists for public safety personnel. The legislation would affect employees of state agencies under the governor for a period of four years.
SB 1229 allows either the union or the employer, after a period of mediation, to invoke the interest arbitration process under which both sides submit their proposals to an independent arbitrator. Once the arbitration hearing begins, union members could not strike. The terms of the expired contract would remain in place until the arbitrator ruled. Click here to read a fact sheet with further information on SB 1229.
Certainly there are times when a strike may be the only recourse left after every reasonable effort has been made to reach a fair contract settlement. In recent years we’ve witnessed strikes of teachers, oil workers, screenwriters, orchestra members, dock workers, and even our fellow AFSCME members in Will County, Illinois. But whether to strike should be a decision made by union members, not one recklessly provoked by a governor eager for a confrontation without regard for the consequences for tens of thousands of state employees or the millions of Illinois citizens who rely on the services we provide.
You can be very proud of your Bargaining Committee for charting a course that can serve to protect your rights and your standard of living, while seeking to avoid unnecessary disruption to the services that so many depend on. In the last hectic days of the spring legislative session, they executed a remarkable grassroots lobbying effort—and they succeeded.
On Saturday SB 1229 was approved by the Illinois General Assembly by wide majorities—67-23 with 25 not voting in the House and 38-17 with four not voting in the Senate. The overwhelming support for the bill in both houses shows widespread concern that the governor may actually be seeking to foment a conflict that would shut down state government.
This confrontational approach to bargaining comes from a governor who slashed funding for autistic children but refuses to consider rolling back corporate tax giveaways, who claims that union members are overpaid but gives huge pay hikes to his own aides, and who denounces corruption while vowing to use millions in campaign funds to retaliate against anyone who disagrees with him.
SB 1229 is a necessary step to help avert the threat of chaos in state government and ensure stability in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. If Gov. Rauner is interested in reaching a fair settlement through the collective bargaining process, he can demonstrate that right now by signing this bill. If he chooses instead to veto the bill, then he will have sent a clear signal that he prefers conflict over constructive solutions. AFSCME and other affected unions will, of course, seek to override any such veto—and your involvement will be critical to that effort.
If and when the bill becomes law, union members can choose the path of arbitration if the Administration does not make a good-faith effort to reach a settlement. But in the meantime, we must continue to prepare for the other eventuality: If it does not become law—or if an override vote is many months away—we have to be prepared for the disruption the Governor may cause if he follows through on his threat to shut down state government by locking us out or forcing us to strike.
AFSCME members keep Illinois safe, protect children from abuse and neglect, care for elderly veterans and people with profound disabilities, and do so much more every day. We are committed to maintaining the public services we provide and to reaching agreement on a fair union contract that recognizes the importance of these services to the people of Illinois. By continuing to stand together in unity and by reaching out to our friends, neighbors, elected officials, community leaders and the public we serve, we can achieve those goals in the days to come.
Courtesy of AFSCME Council 31