ArbitrationContractHB 580 up in Senate

HB 580, which would provide state employees with a fair shot at securing a fair contract, is expected to be called for a vote in the Senate this week. Call your state senator today on the AFSCME hotline to urge support for HB 580: Dial 888-912-5959 or use the Click to Call tool.

The bill provides for an impartial arbitrator to resolve disputed issues in state contract negotiations. Governor Rauner is fiercely opposing the legislation as he wants to force his own harsh terms on state employees. He’s afraid of any review by an independent expert who might see just how out-of-whack his demands are. He’s made up a phony number—$3 billion—that he claims is the cost of the contract proposals AFSCME has made.

But Rauner knows that a professional arbitrator would see through that lie in a heartbeat. The fact is that the union’s current proposals cost less than one-fifth of that—and the AFSCME Bargaining Committee has repeatedly made clear that the union is prepared to negotiate further.

The fight to pass HB 580 is being led by the Illinois AFL-CIO and includes a broad spectrum of the labor movement, including the six other unions that have not reached contract settlements with the Rauner Administration: Trooper Lodge 41/FOP, Laborers, IFT, SEIU Health Care, Illinois Nurses Association, and the Police Benevolent and Protective Association.

Every member of the General Assembly knows that the governor is trying to impose his harsh demands for steep health care cost increases and a four-year pay/step freeze on employees, while wiping out any safeguards against irresponsible privatization of state services. All but four Democrats in the House voted for HB 580 to send a strong message that state employees deserve fair treatment. But not a single Republican voted for the bill—not even those who told union members last fall that they had a firm commitment from the governor that he’d bargain in good faith until a settlement was reached.

Now it’s time to hold those Republican legislators to THEIR commitments. If they support a fair contract settlement for state employees, they must vote to override the gubernatorial veto of HB 580 that you can be sure is coming as soon as the bill passes out of the Senate.

Rauner won’t talk when it matters

Bruce Rauner seems to be talking non-stop these days—trying frantically to rewrite the very ugly reality of what’s happening in our state. Constantly attacking others, he fails to show the kind of leadership that can bring people together to sit down and work to resolve their differences.

It’s the same story when it comes to resolving his contract dispute with state employees. Rauner continues to attack employees and their union at every opportunity. But he’s walked away from the bargaining table and is flatly refusing to negotiate any further. Instead he’s filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against AFSCME at the Illinois Labor Relations Board (where he makes all the appointments) and is asking the board to let him impose his own harsh terms on employees. Rauner’s claiming that contract negotiations are at an impasse (i.e. that no further progress can be made), a charge the union flatly rejects. AFSCME has filed our own Unfair Labor Practice charge against the Administration for its failure to bargain in good faith.

Normally, it would take many months or even up to a year for the labor board to rule in such a complex matter. But the Administration is pressing the board for an expedited ruling and it’s very likely the board will comply. If the labor board does rule against the union, AFSCME can appeal that ruling in state court. But Rauner could impose his entire barrage of hostile proposals on state employees while that appeal is pending.

Getting info out—and input in

Thousands of state employees have attended AFSCME’s Contract Informational Meetings over the past six weeks. The meetings included an in-depth presentation (and related handouts) that laid out all of the current issues in dispute between the Rauner Administration and AFSCME members in state contract negotiations. They also included a Member Contract Survey that polled union members regarding their views on four key outstanding issues in those negotiations (wages/steps, health insurance costs, merit pay, and subcontracting).

If you weren’t able to make it to one of the meetings in your local, check in with your steward or local leadership to get copies of the handouts and to complete the Member Contract Survey.

Budgetary disaster

As the governor continues to refuse to work on enacting a budget, our state falls ever deeper into debt. Our public university system is in serious jeopardy. Social service programs serving the elderly, the disabled and others most in need are being forced to close their doors. Small businesses in many communities are hurting. And big businesses are staying AWAY from Illinois. Why would a business want to relocate to a state that doesn’t even have an operating budget?

What exactly is the “Turnaround Agenda” for which Governor Rauner is sending our state into ruin? Some in the press describe it as ‘pro-business’ or ‘economic reforms.’ The governor claims it would put the state’s fiscal house in order. None of the above is the correct answer. No serious policy analyst believes that the Governor’s demands would significantly improve our state’s business or fiscal climate. And he’s never bothered to introduce a shred of evidence to demonstrate that they would. Think about it: Term limits? Redistricting? Less compensation for injured workers? Elimination of collective bargaining rights? Elimination of the ‘prevailing wage’ for construction workers? That in sum is Rauner’s big “Turnaround” plan to fix Illinois.

How many businesses do you think are sitting around in some other state saying, “Boy, if only Illinois would change the way it draws legislative districts, we’d be happy to relocate there”? How much would Illinois’ giant imbalance between tax revenues and state spending really be helped if benefits to injured workers were reduced? How likely is it that legislators would be MORE responsible in their votes on taxes or spending if they knew they didn’t have to worry about angry voters because their terms were limited anyway?

And, of course, taking away bargaining rights and the prevailing wage would serve to drive down the incomes of working families—harming, not helping, the economic viability of local communities all across Illinois. Just look at Wisconsin, realm of Bruce Rauner’s “role model” Scott Walker, where new statistics show the poverty rate has spiked to a 30-year high.

So if the Turnaround Agenda would have no positive impact whatsoever, just why is the governor holding the budget hostage and wrecking our state’s credit rating and credibility?

The answer has been clear from Day One: His only real goal is destroying labor unions in order to consolidate the power of the uber-wealthy class he represents. These millionaires and billionaires resent to no end that ordinary people have a voice on the job and in the political arena through their unions—and they’re prepared to do whatever it takes to silence that voice.

Money can’t buy love—but can it buy elections?

Virtually every poll these days shows that Rauner’s popularity is steadily declining in communities all across Illinois. But that isn’t stopping him from trying to take down any legislator who won’t bow down to him—and spending big bucks to do it. To further that end, Rauner’s made common cause with IllinoisGO, a PAC that claims to be for “Democrats,” as well as the ultra-right wing Liberty Principles PAC and Illinois Opportunity Project, both run by Dan Proft.

The hottest contest in the Democratic primary is in the 5 th House District in Chicago, where community advocate Juliana Stratton is challenging Rauner ally, State Representative Ken Dunkin. Dunkin was essential to Rauner’s success in blocking an override of his veto of SB 1229, the previous version of the state contract arbitration bill. The Illinois Opportunity PAC alone has contributed some $500,000 to Dunkin’s reelection campaign and money is pouring into his coffers from other sources. AFSCME and other unions have endorsed Juliana Stratton and labor is striving to raise enough money to make sure that she can compete with Dunkin in the very expensive Chicago media market.

Another Democratic race that’s highly contentious is in the 7th House District in the Chicago suburbs, home of Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, chief sponsor of HB 580. Rep. Welch’s strong stand in support of state employees has now made him a top target of Rauner’s friends with the Liberty Principles PAC. They’re pouring money into an attempt to smear Rep. Welch with misleading mailers.

And then there’s the Republican primary in the 50th Senate District in central Illinois, where Rauner is going all-out to punish Senator Sam McCann for standing with state employees in support of SB 1229 last year. Here the big bucks have really poured in to McCann’s opponent—and the smears against Sam have been nonstop. His opponent is a state trooper who is opposed to HB 580—and who doesn’t even have the support of his own union. Troopers Lodge 41/FOP, like just about every other union in the state, is backing Sam McCann.

AFSCME members who can help out with canvassing or phone banking in the final days of the primary season in any of these three critical races should click here to sign up right now.

Stepping down?

Even though a “tolling agreement” that extends the terms of the current union contract has been in place since the previous contract expired, the Rauner Administration has refused to implement the step increases that state employees were slated to receive in FY 16. AFSCME filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge at the Labor Board seeking to compel payment of the steps.  Earlier this month the Administrative Law Judge who heard the case issued a recommendation in support of the Employer’s position. While the recommendation must still be considered by the full board, that may turn out to be little more than a formality.

A clear signal to that effect is a very similar case before another Rauner-appointed board, the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board. Chicago Public Schools management had refused to pay step increases owed to members of the Chicago Teachers Union while they were in negotiations and working under a contract extension. The CTU asked the Education Labor Board to take legal action to compel CPS to pay the increases, but it recently refused to do so.

Closures, layoffs, consolidation

Last year the Rauner Administration embarked on a plan to dismantle the prized Illinois State Museum network, shuttering the main museum in Springfield and all of the associated sites, including the internationally renowned Dixon Mounds.

The governor also shut down DNR’s Sparta Shooting Complex and laid off dozens of other DNR employees.

AFSCME filed a grievance challenging the layoffs and sought an injunction in aid of arbitration to block them from going forward. The Administration subsequently entered into an agreement to suspend the layoffs while the arbitration was pending. The grievance has now been heard by the arbitrator, but no decision has yet been issued.

At the same time, AFSCME joined with concerned citizens to win passage of SB 317, sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, which required the state to reopen and continue to operate all of the Illinois State Museum sites. Earlier this month, Rauner amendatorily vetoed that bill, rewriting it to allow only two museum sites to reopen and to require that they seek private funding to do so. Supporters of the museum system sought to override the veto, but were unable to secure enough votes to do so. An amendatory veto cannot stand unless it is upheld by the General Assembly, and no motion was made to that effect. This means that the bill is effectively dead—but the fight to save the ISM and its vital cultural and archaeological heritage is very much alive and will continue on!

The museums are not the only closures on Rauner’s agenda. His new budget plan is based on closing down the Illinois Youth Center at Kewanee, a DJJ facility that houses maximum-security and special-treatment youth offenders. The Administration has not yet put forward a plan as to where the youth currently at Kewanee will be relocated—though both IYC Harrisburg and IYC St. Charles have been mentioned as potential sites. Neither of these facilities currently has the necessary programming or physical plant to appropriately house the youth at Kewanee. Concerned legislators from the Kewanee area have been told that the facility there may be turned over to DOC to be used to reduce overcrowding in the adult prison system. The closure plans must go before the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability for review.

Another Rauner initiative is the plan to consolidate technology functions in a single agency—a new Department of Information Technology (DoIT). This initiative will require employees in several different agencies to transfer into the new agency. CMS has formally notified the union of this change, which is targeted for implementation on July 1, 2016. AFSCME made a demand to bargain over the impact of this restructuring, but the state has said it is not available to meet for several weeks. The negotiating committee will include employees from agencies impacted by the plan.

Phony phoning

Many state employees were angry and alarmed last month when they started receiving calls on their home or cell phones from an unidentified source that was pushing them to answer questions about their views on state contract negotiations, the union, the governor, and much more. The calls did not bear any resemblance to the normal anonymity and professional tenor of a standard polling call. Instead, the callers used the name of the employee they were calling, appeared to know facts about them (such as their salaries), and tried to pressure the employee into answering the questions even when he or she resisted doing so. Some employees demanded to know who was behind this so-called “poll.” Most of the callers refused to answer, but a few named a specific company and several said it was the Rauner Administration.

The Rauner Administration denied that it was behind the calls. However, it is highly unlikely that any entity could have secured access to the range of data that the calling firm had unless it was provided by the Rauner Administration. AFSCME had a proposal on the bargaining table for many months that would have expressly prohibited the state from giving out employees’ home addresses and phone numbers, but the Rauner Administration flatly refused to agree to that proposal—saying that it wanted to reserve the prerogative to give out this personal data to anyone that it chose. The Administration also pointed to a provision in the current union contract that addresses employee privacy. AFSCME is filing a grievance to seek to enforce that provision and prevent any further disclosure of employees’ personal information.

Upward Mobility Program

Because there’s no state budget, there is no funding to pay for the college coursework that is part of the Upward Mobility Program. However, as a result of the court order AFSCME won that is ensuring that the state continue to pay all employees, Upward Mobility Program staff and CMS testing staff are continuing to work. Moreover, the “tolling agreement” which extends the terms of the AFSCME contract also keeps all provisions of the Upward Mobility Program in place. But while the promotions under the program have continued to occur, CMS unilaterally stopped all new registrations for the program. The union has argued that there is no reason to halt registrations, the selection of targeted titles, and any associated testing, so long as all new registrants are informed that there is currently no funding available to pay for college courses. But CMS has still not agreed to open up registration and testing. AFSCME has filed a grievance to seek to compel the operation of those portions of the Upward Mobility Program.

Courtesy of AFSCME Council 31