On Wednesday, May 18, AFSCME members joined with thousands of concerned citizens from all across Illinois in a march and rally at the State Capitol to demand an end to Bruce Rauner’s destructive and deceptive political gamesmanship.
As Illinois faces the prospect of entering a second fiscal year without a budget, countless citizens suffer because vitally needed services are being shut down, public universities struggle to maintain operations, and state employees face the possibility of a strike because the governor has walked out on contract negotiations.
On May 18, we came together determined to build our state, not tear it down as Rauner is trying to do, to unify our citizens, not foment hatred and division as Rauner is trying to do, to uphold the right of workers to form unions, not obliterate that right as Rauner is trying to do.
HB 580 override vote fails
The Rauner Administration clearly wants to impose its own terms on state employees—and clearly doesn’t believe those terms can withstand independent scrutiny. That’s why Gov. Rauner vetoed HB 580, legislation to allow for impartial arbitration of the state contract dispute, and worked so hard to prevent a veto override.
In the end, every Republican state representative voted NO on the motion to override the Governor’s veto of this common-sense legislation.
After the vote was taken, seven of those Republicans sent a letter to Governor Rauner and AFSCME Council 31 urging both parties to agree to renew negotiations. Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch immediately reiterated the AFSCME Bargaining Committee’s willingness to return to the table, to further modify our proposals, and to work constructively to reach a fair contract settlement. She told the legislators that if the Rauner Administration rejected their request—and if they genuinely wanted to restart contract negotiations—then they should vote YES to override the veto of HB 580.
Sure enough, in no time flat, the Rauner Administration said it would not renew contract negotiations, so Rep. Chris Welch, the chief sponsor of HB 580, decided to offer those seven Republicans the opportunity to make good on their stated commitment to fair treatment for state employees.
In the final hours of the legislative session, Rep. Welch once again called the override motion on HB 580 for a vote—and every one of those seven Republican legislators—Avery Bourne, Terri Bryant, C.D. Davidsmeyer, Norine Hammond, Sarah Wojcicki Jimenez, Don Moffitt, and Adam Brown—voted NO once again.
Union members in these seven districts are upset and angry that their legislators aided and abetted Governor Rauner’s plan to impose steep health care cost increases and take away important workplace rights.
Labor board hearing wraps up
When the Rauner Administration walked out on contract negotiations in January, they filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge against AFSCME for refusing to agree that negotiations were at an impasse. That charge has been consolidated for hearing purposes with a ULP that AFSCME filed against the administration for bad-faith bargaining.
The hearing on these charges got underway at the end of April before the Illinois Labor Relations Board, a Rauner-appointed body, and proceeded on an almost-daily basis for more than six weeks, finally wrapping up on June 9. AFSCME is asking the Labor Board to require the Rauner Administration to return to the bargaining table, while the governor is seeking the board’s authorization to impose his own terms on state employees with no further negotiations.
Normally it would take several months for a decision to issue—as there must be time for the parties to submit written briefs, for the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who heard the case to issue her recommendation, and for the Labor Board to act on her recommendation.
However, the Rauner Administration—after applying intense pressure throughout the hearing process to limit testimony—has now made the unprecedented request to bypass the ALJ entirely and have the case go directly to the Labor Board. It will be up to the Labor Board to rule on this motion—possibly at its upcoming meeting on July 12. If the Board accepts the motion to circumvent its normal procedures, a ruling in this case could come as early as August 9.
Standing up for ourselves—and Illinois citizens
If the Labor Board rules in Gov. Rauner’s favor, he has made clear that he will immediately seek to impose his own extreme terms on state employees, including:
- Four-year pay freeze
- Four-year step/longevity freeze
- 100% increase in health care premiums OR drastically higher co-pays and deductibles
- Elimination of all safeguards in privatization of state services
- Reduction in overtime pay, holiday pay, layoff rights, mandatory overtime protections, and other workplace rights
Although AFSCME would appeal that ruling to the Appellate Court, the administration is likely to rush to try to put in place the most onerous elements of their proposal—especially the big cost increases in health care.
At that point, union members’ only options would be to work under those terms or go out on strike. The decision as to whether to strike would be made by a democratic vote of union members.
The simple fact is that AFSCME members have done everything possible to avert a strike. We know how much citizens all across the state depend on the services we provide.
But we also know that it’s essential to be prepared for whatever might come. That’s why the AFSCME Council 31 Executive Board voted last week to establish a State Employee Strike Fund and to raise sufficient resources to provide strike benefits for union members in the event that Gov. Rauner continues his efforts to try to force a confrontation.
In addition, AFSCME local unions have already begun to prepare for the possibility of a strike—setting up strike-planning committees and community outreach groups. You can begin now to prepare too. Be sure to put some money aside out of every paycheck to help sustain you if there is a strike.
In the coming weeks, local unions all across the state will be intensifying this planning process by talking with every member about what is at stake in this battle for a fair contract: a decent standard of living for our families, dignity and respect on the job, and our ability to provide high quality services to the citizens of our state.
Rauner vetoes back pay legislation
On June 10, Gov. Rauner vetoed SB 2046 in its entirety. This appropriations measure was passed by the General Assembly in an effort to provide emergency funding for critical services that are in crisis due to the lack of a state budget. The bill also included funding for back wages owed to state employees.
A recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling held that in order for employees to be paid these contractually negotiated wages that were withheld in 2011, the General Assembly must first appropriate the necessary funds. So AFSCME pressed to have the relevant appropriation included in SB 2046. But now the governor has vetoed the entire bill—and there is little expectation that his veto can be overridden.
Still no budget
Illinois is about to enter its second year without a state budget—an event believed to be unprecedented anywhere in the country.
The budget remains stalled over Gov. Rauner’s insistence that he will not support the revenue increases needed for a balanced budget unless Democrats agree to support his Turnaround Agenda—especially measures that undermine union rights and drive down the income of working families.
The governor is pushing legislators to cut benefits for injured workers, to eliminate the prevailing wage standard for construction workers, and to greatly weaken collective bargaining rights for public employees. Fortunately, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have thus far stood firm against his anti-worker demands.
And, fortunately too, more and more citizens (and even many in the media) have begun to see how destructive the governor’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach is to our state. In response to the growing criticism, he finally agreed to support a “stopgap” budget that would allow the schools to open in the fall, without any preconditions. However, that budget would effectively be “unbalanced” as he would not support the new revenues needed to fund it. He continues to insist that in order for a balanced annual budget to be enacted, legislators must enact elements of his anti-worker agenda. So even as the new fiscal year draws ever closer (July 1), the stalemate in Springfield continues with the governor spending his time travelling around the state attacking the Democrats rather than trying to get down to the difficult task of fixing our state’s fiscal problems.
- The Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) secured by AFSCME and other unions in St. Clair County court, which requires that state employees continue to be paid during the current budget crisis, remains in effect—and the Attorney General has not taken any steps to seek to have it lifted.
- The Rauner Administration has announced plans to repurpose the DJJ Illinois Youth Center at Kewanee as an adult prison. IDOC has met with AFSCME regarding the terms of the transition and an agreement has been reached that will provide job opportunities at the prison for current employees at IYC-Kewanee.
- After putting a nearly year-long hold on the administration of the Upward Mobility Program, DCMS has agreed to work with AFSCME to re-start the program, minus the tuition funding component (because of the state budget crisis no money has been appropriated to pay for tuition). While vacancies for UMP Target Titles are currently being filled pursuant to program guidelines by relying on UMP promotional lists, many AFSCME members are eager to register for the program and become eligible to take the qualifying tests. There is a waiting list of over 1,000 employees who had previously sought to register, but had not been admitted to the program. As soon as all of those registrations are complete, the program will be opened up to all other interested employees. Employees can now enroll online. Click on this link, then click on “eligibility and enrollment,” and then on “online registration system.”
- Many state employees are owed thousands of dollars in travel reimbursements. It appears that state agencies (except DCFS) are still failing to submit travel vouchers to the Comptroller’s Office because the Comptroller says she has no legal authority to pay them. AFSCME has both filed a grievance on this issue and also filed suit to try to compel payment. We are also urging the Comptroller to reverse her position and to agree to reimburse employees for their travel expenses just as she has continued to process other employee compensation (paychecks).
- AFSCME is currently in negotiations with DCMS regarding the establishment of the new technology agency, known as DoIT. There are a number of complex issues involved because many employees will be moved from the agency where they currently work into the new agency (even if their work location does not change). The target date for these transitions is July 1—although no employees from DOC or DJJ will be transitioned at that time. The union is seeking to safeguard all the rights employees currently have and to provide as many options as possible regarding whether employees become part of the new agency.
- DCMS has issued a new Code of Personal Conduct with an extensive listing of requirements and prohibitions. AFSCME has made a demand to bargain over this new set of standards.
Courtesy of AFSCME Council 31