Lessons from the Quincy Veterans Home

The bright spotlight now being shone on the deaths and illness as a result of Legionnaire’s Disease at the Quincy Veterans Home provides a tragic and telling indication of Bruce Rauner’s reign as governor of Illinois. On his watch, state operations have steadily deteriorated in many respects.

A purported technology overhaul that created a whole new agency (DoIT) has been plagued by confusion and mismanagement. In addition, thousands of Illinois residents faced a bleak holiday season when a new computer system in DHS erroneously kicked them off the SNAP (food stamp) rolls.

In DCFS the failure to hire adequate staff has put intense pressure on caseworkers. And in DOC and DJJ, hasty and ill-conceived implementation of policy changes has significantly increased the incidence of inmate and youth assaults on staff.

The crisis at Quincy dramatically escalated while being essentially ignored by the governor’s office. Moreover, management in the Department of Veterans Affairs consistently refused to share information with employees or the union from the outset, ignoring all efforts by AFSCME members to provide input on addressing the problem. That hostility and contempt toward frontline workers—even as they continued to care for the veterans in such a high-risk environment—reflects Rauner’s overall attitude toward employees.

Fortunately, the media spotlight on the Quincy veterans home is now also drawing the attention of state legislators and even our state’s U.S. senators. AFSCME members have made clear that they want the home to remain open, that they’re committed to the veterans they care for, and that they want to do everything possible to reduce the risk posed by the Legionella bacteria. Let’s hope that Governor Rauner’s newfound concern for the facility will remain after the TV cameras are gone.

You would hope all these problems for which his administration is responsible would cause Rauner to pay more attention to the basic functions of state government and less to his anti-worker attacks. But his recent appearance before the Chicago Tribune editorial board made clear that his only real agenda remains crushing labor unions. When asked what would be different if Rauner is reelected to a second term, all he could focus on was his continuing fixation on weakening unions, especially AFSCME, saying that he’s “counting on the courts to give him several ‘transformative’ wins over organized labor” and boasting that he’d then be able to pay employees based on his own standards, not seniority. Clearly Rauner is still obsessed with hurting workers rather than doing his job.

AFSCME renews push for back pay appropriation

When the Illinois General Assembly comes back into session later this month, AFSCME’s lobbying team will be working to build support for Senate Bill 2269, legislation that would fund the remaining back pay still owed to thousands of state employees since a pay raise was withheld in 2011.

The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that the wages are owed to employees, but that they cannot be paid without a legislative appropriation.

Pointing out that these back wages are “the oldest debt in state government,” Senator Andy Manar (D-Macoupin), the bill’s chief sponsor, says he believes it has a good chance of passing because “the facts are on our side.”

Sen. Manar stressed that back pay is a bipartisan issue that should be supported by Republicans and Democrats alike. In fact, his chief co-sponsor is Sen. Sam McCann, a Republican from an adjoining central Illinois district.

But this will be another year of budget battles without sufficient revenues to meet the state’s needs, so it won’t be an easy fight to win passage of the back pay appropriation. We’ve got to make sure that legislators know that state employees deserve to be paid the money owed—and paid now! Contact your state senator today and urge him or her to vote YES on SB 2269!

Legal battles continue

In November, the Fifth District Appellate Court agreed with AFSCME and ruled that the Rauner Administration violated the law when it refused to continue paying step increases after the expiration date of the union contract, and that employees are owed step increases going back to 2015. The Administration has filed a Petition for Leave to Appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court has not decided yet if it will take the case or let the Appellate Court’s ruling stand.

Although the Appellate Court did not specifically rule on the issue of longevity increases, the Union believes that the ruling is applicable to longevity increases as well as steps. The court did not rule on the related issue of longevity because the Administration falsely claimed that it had backed off its refusal to pay longevity increases and that it has actually been giving employees longevity pay increases since 2015.

Because of the State’s misrepresentation of the facts, the Court did not understand that longevity was still an issue. The ruling in the step case is a very strong ruling on Rauner’s legal obligation to maintain the status quo after the expiration of the contract, and this legal interpretation should ultimately be controlling on the issue of longevity as well.

The Union is calling on CMS to honor its own claims that it was paying longevity increases, some of which were made in testimony and under oath. As explained above, it is anticipated that there will be further litigation concerning the steps issue. Should the Rauner Administration refuse to implement longevity increases retroactively to 2015, then the longevity issue will continue to be litigated as well.

Rauner claims anti-worker Janus case as his own

When Bruce Rauner was sworn in as governor in 2015, one of his first acts was to issue an Executive Order barring the deduction of Fair Share fees from the paychecks of union-represented state employees. His game plan was simple, or so he thought. Figuring that everyone operated on his principle of “take everything you can get, any way you can get it”, Rauner believed his order would lead thousands of employees to drop their union membership, weakening unions in state government.

Instead, the opposite happened: More than 1,000 fee-payers quickly signed up to become full dues-paying members. In response to a lawsuit filed by AFSCME and other unions, a state court swiftly issued an injunction forcing Rauner to suspend his order and resume the deduction of Fair Share fees. And just a few weeks ago, that court found that Rauner’s Executive Order was illegal and threw it out entirely.

Meanwhile, Rauner tried going to federal court, seeking to have Fair Share fees found unconstitutional. But the court said he didn’t have standing to bring such a suit, so Rauner and his allies at the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) launched a search for state employees who would serve as surrogates in such a case. They found only one—Mark Janus, a child support specialist in the Department of Healthcare and Family Services in Springfield.

Now called Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, the lawsuit that Rauner originated—and that he still claims as his own—is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Given the Court’s pro-corporate majority, Rauner and his IPI crew are once again dreaming of the damage they can do to labor unions nationwide.

If Fair Share fees are permanently and totally banned, unions would essentially be required to represent employees who contribute nothing toward the cost of that representation. And Rauner et. al. believe they can convince hundreds of thousands of union members—correctional officers, caseworkers, teachers, nurses, firefighters, and every other kind of public employee—to drop out of their unions.

They’ll tell us that we can benefit from the union’s gains without contributing anything toward the costs. But if fewer folks are contributing toward the costs, it will be much harder to make those gains.

The Supreme Court ruling could come as early as May, and you can be sure that when it does, Rauner and the IPI or one of its many front groups will be ringing your phone, filling up your email and mail boxes and even banging on your door to try to get you to drop out of the union.

We can resist their attempts to weaken our union by simply saying “NO” to their ‘opt out’ campaign, which they say will strike a “mortal blow” against public employee unions, driving down workers’ wages and silencing their voices on the job.

We’re not going to let that happen. All across the state, AFSCME local unions are reaching out to members so that we’re ready for whatever Rauner and the IPI unleash on us after the Supreme Court ruling this spring. We’re pledging to remain union members and to continue to stand together and fight for the respect we deserve.

Courtesy AFSCME Council 31