In this bulletin:
- State pension battle shifts to courts
- Is Illinois for sale?
- Back pay battle continues
- Legislative/Endorsement Conference
- Employees targeted to lose union rights
State pension battle shifts to courts – Today, AFSCME and our partners in the We Are One Illinois coalition, as well as a group of active and retired public employees filed suit in Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield to overturn pension-slashing Senate Bill 1 (SB1). Our suit argues that the “pension theft” law violates the pension clause of the Illinois Constitution, which unequivocally states that a public employee’s pension is a contract that the state cannot diminish or impair.
Participants in the We Are One Illinois coalition include AFSCME, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Fraternal Order of Police, Associated Firefighters of Illinois, PBPA, SEIU, INA and LIUNA. The coalition has retained the very highly-regarded law firm of Freeborn Peters to handle the case.
In addition to our union coalition, more than 20 individual active and retired public workers – including eight AFSCME members – from every part of Illinois are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. These teachers, police officers, nurses, caregivers, prison employees, firefighters and others are standing up for hundreds of thousands of their peers by seeking justice to right the wrongs of politicians who shirked their responsibility to uphold the constitution. Defendants in the lawsuit are the state’s constitutional officers, the state retirement systems and their boards.
We strongly believe SB1 should not be implemented before a court makes its decision on its constitutionality. Consequently, We Are One Illinois has sought for the past several weeks to reach agreement with the state Attorney General and the named defendants on a joint request to the court to enjoin the law’s implementation. Regrettably, the Attorney General refused. In our filing, our coalition reserves the right to seek an injunction.
For more updates as the pension lawsuit unfolds, visit the AFSCME Council 31 website.
Is Illinois for sale? – Bruce Rauner, candidate for governor in the upcoming Republican primary, is trying to deal a death blow to democracy in our state, replacing it with a plutocracy in which the wealthy can buy anything they want, including political office.
As of the end of December, he’d already run 633 campaign TV ads – an unprecedented number of ads by any political candidate in Illinois history at such an early stage of a campaign. He paid for them with over a million dollars of his own money – and will undoubtedly spend millions more for literally thousands more ads before he’s done. At the same time, he’s become a magnet for huge contributions from other ultra-wealthy individuals who share his right-wing political views.
Rauner wants to be governor for one overriding reason – to destroy unions in the state of Illinois. His campaign ads relentlessly attack “government union bosses” but, of course, his target isn’t just a couple of labor leaders; it’s union members themselves.
His latest ads claim he doesn’t hate public employees. Well, maybe. But like so many other corporate titans, he would like them much better if they were stripped of their pensions, paid a lot less, and left without a union to stand up for them.
We’ve never seen a more deceptive or dangerous campaign run in Illinois, possibly not anywhere in America. Rauner’s media campaign is a classic example of the “big lie.” He repeatedly uses the term “corrupt” union bosses without offering a shred of evidence for “corruption” – except the mere fact that unions are involved in politics.
That’s right – in Bruce Rauner’s world only the wealthy are supposed to be allowed to contribute to candidates, buy campaign ads or send out campaign mail. In Rauner-world, workers should not be able to participate in the political process or have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.
Of course, Rauner never mentions that, generally speaking, corporations outspend unions 11-1 in political campaigns – and that he has likely already outspent all Illinois labor unions combined in this election cycle.
He continues his “big lie” strategy with the repetitive message that unions control what happens in Springfield, despite the fact that the General Assembly just enacted legislation that massively cuts public employee pension benefits over the unified and vigorous objection of a coalition of all of the state’s public employee unions.
Of course in Rauner-world, the General Assembly wasn’t tough enough on public employees. He criticized the pension bill because it didn’t go far enough in wiping out public employee pensions. He has called for more cuts to workers’ compensation benefits. He announced his real agenda – to CUT the minimum wage – though he’s now trying to cover that up. And, beyond the shadow of a doubt, he’s made clear that he will do everything possible to weaken labor unions in our state.
More and more evidence is emerging every day to show that Rauner made his billions out on the ethical and legal edge. And it’s clearer every day that he’s running what is probably the most dishonest political campaign ever seen in Illinois (and that’s saying a lot in this state).
What can be done to stop a candidate who has unlimited dollars at his disposal – and no ethical standards to hamper him? Nothing but truth-telling, loud and clear. It’s up to working people in Illinois to stand up for ourselves, to insist on our right to have a voice in the political process, to expose Rauner’s record as a vulture capitalist, and to unmask the lies on which his campaign is based. Let’s get to work on that effort without delay.
Back pay battle continues – As the General Assembly prepares to return to Springfield for a new legislative session, AFSCME members in five state agencies are gearing up to launch a renewed effort to secure the back wages owed them under the terms of their previous union contract.
Governor Quinn, who originally withheld the wage increase, has since agreed to a new union contract which brought all state employees to their appropriate pay level. The Quinn Administration also agreed to work with AFSCME to secure funding to pay back wages owed. In most state agencies, there were sufficient lapsed funds in the last two years to pay all of the back wages owed to employees. However, employees in DNR, DOC, DHS, DJJ, and DPH only received partial payment, and now a special $112 million supplemental appropriation is needed to ensure that all back wages can be paid.
If you are an AFSCME member in one of the affected agencies, be sure to call your state representative and state senator NOW to remind them that you are still waiting for the monies that are owed to you. Urge them to support a supplemental appropriation to ensure that all back wages owed can be paid NOW.
Legislative/Endorsement Conference – A back pay supplemental appropriation will be a top priority when representatives from AFSCME local unions all across Illinois convene in Springfield on Saturday, February 1 for the union’s biennial PEOPLE Legislative/Endorsement Conference.
The delegates will be adopting the union’s legislative agenda for the upcoming session of the Illinois General Assembly where the state’s fiscal woes will be front and center. Illinois’ temporary income tax is set to expire during the upcoming fiscal year, leaving the state with a $5 billion budget hole. A shortfall of that magnitude would require massive cuts to vital state services and jobs.
A better solution would be to restructure the state’s tax code to allow for a fairer system in which the wealthy pay more. That’s why AFSCME has joined with nearly 100 other organizations in the A Better Illinois (ABI) coalition that is working for passage of a constitutional amendment that would remove the legal barrier to such fair tax reform. If you haven’t already signed the petition in support of such reform, be sure to do so when your local union reaches out to you.
The PEOPLE conference will also be considering endorsements for the upcoming primary election on March 18. Meetings of regional PEOPLE committees have been held all around the state in recent weeks, with representatives from local unions interviewing candidates and reviewing voting records to develop their recommendations regarding endorsements in state legislative races. The delegates to the conference will also vote on whether to make endorsements in congressional and statewide primaries.
Employees targeted to lose union rights – As a result of the passage of SB 1556 last January, the Quinn administration is now in the process of notifying hundreds of state employees that they no longer are entitled to union representation. The new law gave the administration a virtual free hand to designate up to 1,900 union members to be removed from bargaining units of AFSCME and other unions representing state employees. It is based on greatly expanded definitions of what constitutes supervisory and managerial duties – and provides only the most narrow basis (and limited time frame) to appeal the designation.
Council 31 has provided employees who are potentially affected by the law with information on their appeal rights and is providing representation for many of them before the Illinois Public Employee Labor Relations Board which is the body that hears the appeals. To date, the Labor Board has affirmed the exclusion of 410 AFSCME-represented positions (308 filled; 102 vacant). Since January 9th, CMS has petitioned to exclude an additional 509 AFSCME-represented positions (380 filled; 129 vacant).
AFSCME is providing guidance and representation to employees who are threatened with the loss of their bargaining rights. If you are designated to be removed from the bargaining unit, you can click here to access the form that should be completed and returned to the union right away. If the state does succeed in removing your title from the bargaining unit, you may have rights to AFSCME bargaining unit vacancies. AFSCME staff will be available to assist you in this process. Even if you are not able to move into a bargaining unit position during this process, we urge you to remain an AFSCME member. Our union will continue to represent you under Civil Service and Personnel Rules, and on issues in the legislature and other forums.
This is via AFSCME Council 31