State Budget Mess Goes On

More than two years of budgetary hostage-taking by Governer Bruce Rauner have left Illinois in dismal fiscal shape. Our state was already in financial trouble when Rauner took office, but he made the situation much worse by refusing to tackle the revenue shortfall unless the General Assembly first agreed to back his anti-union agenda.
Fortunately, Democrats in the General Assembly refused to go along with Rauner’s demands to weaken collective bargaining rights, cut benefits for injured workers, reduce pension benefits, and make Illinois a Right-to Work state. But because the Democrats stood firmly against the governor’s all-out assault on working families, Rauner dragged out the budget/revenue crisis for more than two years—driving Illinois’ budget deficit from $5 billion to more than $15 billion.

When a handful of Republican legislators finally joined with Democrats to pass a budget and raise the necessary revenues to fund it earlier this year, Rauner and his allies at the Illinois Policy Institute launched an all-out attack on them.

Then Rauner proceeded to put up a number of roadblocks to implementing a key provision of the final budget plan—the issuance of bonds to pay down that mountain of debt. Now more problems are looming as it appears that savings from the establishment of a new Tier III pension option will be much lower than expected. In other words, the state’s budgetary woes are far from over—and are all too likely to continue until Illinois is prepared to join the 35 states that have a rational tax structure that provides for graduated rates that ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share.

Illinois’ Richest Resident

Wondering why we can’t get a fair tax structure in Illinois? Some wealthy individuals here and across the country, like Warren Buffett, readily agree that the rich should pay their fair share. But then there are others—like Bruce Rauner and his best buddy, Ken Griffin—who keep trying to rig the system even more in favor of those at the top.

Forbes Magazine has just released its listing of America’s 400 wealthiest individuals—and guess who heads the list for Illinois at $8.5 billion in personal wealth? Yes, that same Ken Griffin—the one who’s given millions to Rauner’s campaign fund and wants the wealthy to have even more influence in the political arena. You can be sure they’re not in favor of the constitutional amendment that’s needed to allow for a fairer tax system. It’s worth noting that Democratic gubernatorial candidate, JB Pritzker, is also on the Forbes list. But, like Warren Buffett, Pritzker has already expressed his support for a tax system in which the wealthy pay their fair share.

Illinois Policy Institue—Putting on Sheep’s Clothing

Bruce Rauner is taking his crusade to eradicate public employee unions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Rauner originally filed suit against AFSCME here in Illinois, trying to weaken our union by prohibiting fair share fees. When the court said Rauner didn’t have standing to bring such a suit, he found a lone state employee—Mark Janus—to allow the legal challenge to proceed in his name.

In 1977 a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Abood) affirmed ‘fair share’ fees as a means to ensure fairness for all by providing that an employee who does not want to become a union member can instead pay a fee to contribute toward the cost of the representation the union provides. While the vast majority of employees are proud to be full-fledged union members, fair share fees ensure that those who aren’t do their part too. It’s an approach that has helped to build strong, effective unions throughout the public sector.

And that’s just what Bruce Rauner and his allies at Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) are trying to change. They are backing the Janus v AFSCME Council 31 lawsuit because they want a ruling that will ban fair share fees and deprive unions of resources needed to level the playing field with employers.

The IPI’s legal arm, the Liberty Justice Center, is aiding Rauner in pursuing this case, claiming they’re acting out of concern for the rights of employees. Yes, that would be the same IPI that’s been out there bashing state employees almost nonstop for the past several years—calling for abolishing our pensions, cheering on Rauner’s attempt to double our health care premiums, and portraying us to the public as overpaid and barely working.

If the Supreme Court rules in their favor, watch for the little IPI wolfies to put on their sheep’s clothing in no time flat. They’ll be spending the big bucks Rauner has given them to deluge state workers with mailings, phone calls, and social media ads claiming to want to help us out—by telling us to drop out of the union!

That’s right, the same group that wants to cut our salaries, take away our pensions and drive up our health care costs, the same group that is relentlessly trying to turn public opinion against us, thinks we’re really, really stupid—and that we’ll just follow their orders aimed at bankrupting our union.

You can click here to get the facts on IPI’s attacks on state workers and our union—so you’ll be more than ready when the sheep suddenly appear.

DCFS Caseworker Assaulted

At the end of the workday on Friday, September 29, in the Sterling DCFS office, a Child Protective Investigator was called out for a child welfare check at a home in which the father had already been charged with beating a 6-year-old child. The investigator knew it would be a difficult situation, but she didn’t hesitate, knowing that another small child—a two-year-old—was at risk.

Tragically, when she arrived at the home, she was knocked to the ground and beaten savagely about the head by the child’s father. Since that day she has been in a coma, fighting for her life. Her assailant was arrested and is currently in jail being held on $200,000 bond.

Kathy Lane, DCFS co-worker and president of the investigator’s local union, AFSCME Local 448, says: “The employee who was assaulted is a dedicated investigator who works tirelessly to assure children are protected and families receive the services to correct the conditions within their home.”

Now her husband, daughter and grandchildren—along with many of her DCFS coworkers—come daily to sit at her bedside, praying for her recovery.

“It breaks our heart but with prayers and miracles we hope she will regain consciousness,” Kathy Lane writes.

Dangers in DOC and DJJ

On October 12, leaders from AFSCME local unions representing DOC and DJJ employees traveled to Springfield for a press conference to call attention to the alarming increase in the number and severity of inmate assaults on correctional employees.

Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch presented the union’s analysis of the department’s own tracking data which demonstrates that over the past two years there has been a 49% increase in assaults on staff in DJJ facilities, and a 51% increase in assaults on staff in DOC facilities.

Both departments are failing to hold those who commit such attacks accountable for their actions. When five inmates at Pontiac Correctional Center attacked corrections staff, sending several to the hospital, the facility refused to impose any penalties. It was only after AFSCME Local 494 leaders met with the state’s attorney that criminal charges against the inmates were filed.

And the Department of Corrections is making the normal risks of working in a prison greater by reclassifying inmates from more secure to less secure facilities without any input from frontline staff. Cody Dornes, president of Local 46 at East Moline Correctional Center, and Cory Knop, president of Local 3600 at Lawrence Correctional Center, described serious assaults at their facilities in which the inmates involved had been recently transferred in from higher level facilities.

In the case of East Moline, the officer was working alone on a double unit with over 100 inmates. Because EMCC is a minimum security facility their doors were not locked. But the inmate who assaulted the officer—beating her head with a rock—was actually a Class X felon who’d been convicted of aggravated vehicular hijacking with a weapon. Standards were recently changed to allow convinced murderers and sex offenders to be housed at the facility.

Lynch called on both departments to take action to better protect employees, including: Improving staffing levels; holding inmates and youth accountable for their behavior; halting budget-driven inmate reclassifications, improving mental health treatment, and assuring that equipment is in good working order.

State Contract Dispute Continues

It’s been nearly 22 months since the Rauner Administration walked out on contract negotiations with AFSCME members in state government, claiming an impasse existed, even though the AFSCME Bargaining Committee had clearly indicated a willingness to further modify its positions. The governor refused all further efforts at compromise and instead moved to impose his own extreme terms on employees.

AFSCME filed an appeal to block Rauner from unilaterally imposing his terms, which included raising health care premiums by 100%, unfettered privatization, and substituting a merit pay bonus system for wage and step increases. Fortunately, the Fourth District Appellate Court issued a Stay that put Rauner’s plan to impose on hold while the union’s appeal on the matter of impasse is heard. Briefs in the case are expected to be completed by December—and oral arguments will follow in the early part of 2018. There’s no way to know exactly when the court will rule on AFSCME’s appeal—but in the meantime, the terms of the union contract remain in effect.

Security employees in DOC and DJJ (RC 6/CU 500) are on a parallel track to a contract settlement—with the disputed issues before an independent arbitrator in an “interest arbitration” proceeding. Final briefs in that case are pending. However, it’s important to note that even though the arbitrator issued his award in the FOP/Troopers Lodge interest arbitration (which covered much of the same ground as the AFSCME dispute) nearly a year ago, it still has not been implemented..

We know only too well that Gov. Rauner intends to continue to do all he can to drive down our wages and benefits. If we prevail in the current legal proceedings, that doesn’t mean we will have won the fair contract we deserve. Rather it will mean that the governor is required to return to the bargaining table and the battle for a fair contract will begin anew. That’s why it’s so critical that we continue to reach out in our communities to remind our friends and neighbors of the vital work that state employees do.

No Ruling Yet in AFSCME Lawsuit on Step Increases

One of the first things that Bruce Rauner did when coming into office was refuse to pay state employees their step increases—claiming that steps were only valid for the periods delineated in the previous union contract. AFSCME immediately challenged Rauner’s action, arguing that since conditions of employment are supposed to be maintained, steps should continue to be paid.

Council 31 filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge challenging the Rauner Administration’s failure to pay the steps, but that charge was dismissed by the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB). The Union then appealed the Board’s ruling to the Fifth District Appellate Court. All briefs have been filed and oral arguments in that case were completed months ago. We are now awaiting the court’s decision.

Override Rauner’s Veto of Privatization Accountability Bill!

Governor Rauner has vetoed HB 3216, legislation to establish clear standards and strict accountability in any plan to privatize operations of state government. Sponsored by Rep. Litesa Wallace and Sen. Andy Manar, the legislation allowed the state to enter into third-party contracts only when certain conditions are met, including:

  • Third party contracts must be awarded through a competitive bidding process.
  • The need must justify the size and duration of any contract and prove that the savings won’t be achieved through diminishment in service quality or quantity.
  • Jobs cannot move out of Illinois or out of the country as a result of any third-party contract.
  • The potential advantage of a third-party contract must outweigh the benefit of having state employees perform the service.

Given the many problems that arose as a result of the Rauner Administration’s hasty privatization of health benefits administration to a foreign firm, you’d think the governor would think twice before rejecting such sensible safeguards, but apparently he didn’t.AFSCME will be seeking to override the governor’s veto in the Fall Veto Session which gets underway this month. Given the growing fissures between Republican legislators and Governor Rauner, there is a possibility that some legislators who initially did not support HB 3216 because of pressure from the Rauner Administration may now be more open to backing it by voting for the veto override.

State’s Oldest Unpaid Debt

We’re all for the state paying outstanding bills owed to medical providers. Many of them are the doctors and dentists on whom we rely for our own health care and we want to see them treated fairly.

But we’re disappointed and angry that the final budget deal struck this summer that provided bonding authority for unpaid bills did not include an appropriation to pay the debt owed to state employees as well—that is the state’s oldest outstanding debt!

More than six years ago, former governor Pat Quinn withheld a negotiated pay raise from state employees. AFSCME grieved that action. An arbitrator ruled in the union’s favor and said the money owed should be paid. The state appealed that ruling to circuit court—and the judge again ordered the money to be paid. The state appealed again—and the appellate court again said that AFSCME was right and employees should be paid. Then Attorney General Lisa Madigan appealed the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court. The Supreme Court—the court of last resort—agreed the money was owed, but said it could not be paid unless funds were appropriated for that purpose.

As the result of AFSCME’s victories in the early rounds of the legal battle, some agencies managed to pay the money owed to employees in its entirety. But the two largest state agencies—DOC and DHS—as well as a few smaller agencies did not.

Once the Supreme Court ruled that the money could not be paid without an appropriation, AFSCME began an intensive lobbying campaign to get funds appropriated for the back pay. In 2014, that effort met with partial success when the General Assembly appropriated some $50 million to pay nearly half of the monies owed.

But that still left thousands of state employees who had not been fully paid. They were effectively put on legislative hold when there was no state budget for two years and the state teetered on the brink of fiscal collapse.

Now that Illinois has a budget and is beginning to repay some of its debts, it’s time to remind legislators of the state’s oldest debt. That’s why AFSCME will press for passage of an appropriation for all of the back pay owed to state employees in the upcoming legislative session.

Senator Andy Manar (D-48) who has long championed this issue has already agreed to sponsor the measure.

“It is time, well past time, for the state to settle its oldest outstanding debt—the back pay owed to thousands of state employees who show up every day to do their jobs serving the people of Illinois,” Sen Manar said in announcing his intent to seek passage of the measure.

Courtesy of AFSCME Council 31