On May 18, AFSCME members will join other concerned citizens in a march and rally at the State Capitol to demand a fair budget and fair treatment for working people in our state. The outcome of the primary election in March made very clear that Gov. Rauner’s millions can’t convince voters to ignore the stark reality that his personal ideological agenda—especially his hatred of unions—is driving our state ever deeper into social and fiscal chaos.
As Illinois faces the prospect of entering a second fiscal year without a budget, as countless citizens suffer because vitally-needed services are being shut down, as our public universities struggle to maintain operations, and as state employees face the possibility of a strike because the governor has walked out on contract negotiations, we must do all that we can to halt the immense damage that the governor is inflicting. On May 18, we’re coming together to send a strong, clear message: It’s time to make Illinois work for all!
Keep the heat on for HB 580
AFSCME members are continuing to urge legislators to vote to override Governor Rauner’s expected veto of HB 580. This legislation would provide for a neutral arbitrator to resolve the current state contract dispute, a process already permitted for tens of thousands of correctional officers, firefighters, police officers, and other public safety personnel in our state.
Rauner is putting tremendous pressure on Republican legislators to vote against overriding his veto, so it’s critical that those same Republican legislators hear from state employees in their districts. Delegations from local unions have been visiting legislators’ offices to make clear how important this bill is. Make your voice heard too! You can call the AFSCME hotline to be connected directly to your state representative at 888-912-5959. Urge him or her to vote YES to override the governor’s expected veto of HB 580.
Labor board proceedings get underway
After he walked out on negotiations with the AFSCME Bargaining Committee in January, Governor Rauner claimed that bargaining on a new state contract was at an impasse. AFSCME strongly disagreed, making clear that the union was prepared to continue to bargain. The Rauner Administration then filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) against AFSCME for refusing to agree that impasse had been reached. That charge is now before the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The hearing on its merits has been consolidated with a hearing on a ULP filed by the union against the administration for bad faith bargaining.
The Rauner Administration has hired an outside law firm to handle the case and has been pressing the Labor Board to short-circuit its normal procedures. As a result, the Board has set an extremely demanding hearing schedule, which got underway last week and is expected to last several more weeks. In addition, the Board has allowed the Administration to submit all its testimony in written form rather than presenting its witnesses to testify in person as is normally required.
The Administration’s legal filing makes very clear that it is trying to get Board approval to impose its harsh 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
When the labor board rules…
Normally a Board ruling in such a complex case would take many months, but given the intensive pressure from the Rauner Administration for a speedy outcome, Union attorneys believe a final decision from the Labor Board could come as early as September.
If the Labor Board rules in Rauner’s favor, then the governor has made clear that he will immediately seek to impose his own extreme terms on state employees. At that point, union members’ only options will be to accept those terms or to go out on strike.
Rauner has been pushing for a strike since he first ran for governor. Union members, on the other hand, don’t want to shut down state government. We know how much citizens all across the state—especially very vulnerable individuals—depend on the services we provide.
But we also know that it’s essential to be prepared for whatever might come. AFSCME local unions have already begun to prepare for the possibility of a strike—setting up strike-planning committees, membership support funds, 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. Work with your local union to reach out in your community and let your friends and neighbors know that if a strike occurs, it will only be because Governor Rauner is refusing to negotiate through the normal collective bargaining process. Our bright blue “We Support State Workers” signs have blossomed in communities all across Illinois, giving a powerful indication that our communities value the services we provide and don’t buy the governor’s line that state employees are greedy and self-serving.
Nurses vote down contract settlement
The governor recently told reporters that he’s sure that AFSCME members actually agree with the harsh contract terms he is trying to impose on them. Only someone as out of touch with the lives of working families as Bruce Rauner would imagine that folks struggling to pay their bills every month would be happy to see their health insurance costs doubled, while getting no pay increase at all.
Maybe the governor got a reality check a few days after he made that statement when members of the Illinois Nurses Association (INA) voted down by a more than two-to-one margin the Tentative Agreement their Bargaining Committee had reached with the Administration. The terms of that Tentative Agreement were almost identical to those the governor is seeking to impose on AFSCME members. Rauner immediately filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the INA and has refused to reply to the union’s offer to resume negotiations.
Privatization, consolidation, closures
Sunday’s Chicago Tribune had a big front-page story on how Gov. Rauner is going to make privatization of state government a priority in the coming year—citing his efforts to strip language requiring oversight and accountability of privatization schemes from the union contract.
One of Rauner’s top targets is the Department of Corrections. While privatization of prisons is barred by our state’s Private Prison Moratorium Act, which AFSCME led the fight to enact more than two decades ago, health care services are excluded from coverage under that law. Physician and nursing services are already provided under a vendor contract at many correctional facilities, but now Rauner is trying to contract out all nursing services as well as all other health-related services—potentially laying off more than 300 DOC employees. AFSCME and the INA are working together to pass legislation that would block this effort. HB 5104 has already passed the House and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Labor Committee this week.
The Tribune also described the new economic development agency established by Rauner to take over some of the functions of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). While the governor initially pledged that the new agency would operate with as much transparency as any public entity, its operations are in fact shrouded in secrecy and it is still not clear how it will interact with DCEO.
There is also concern that the newly-established Department of Information Technology (DoIT) is intended to pave the way for privatization of IT functions. Thus far the new agency is creating considerable confusion with its plan to “move” IT employees out of the agencies in which they currently work and into the new agency—even though it appears those employees will continue to have the same titles, duties, and work locations. AFSCME has made a demand to bargain over the impact of the changes and the union has convened a committee of IT employees from various agencies to conduct that bargaining. The Union Committee is still awaiting information that has been requested of management.
AFSCME continues to battle the closure of the Illinois State Museum system and is working with legislators to renew efforts to reopen the shuttered sites. The union is also seeking to prevent the closure of the IYC-Kewanee, pointing out that the administration has no viable plan to provide counseling, education and other services to the special populations of adjudicated youth who are currently housed at Kewanee. That closure cannot go forward until the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) issues its advisory recommendation, which is expected to be sometime this week. AFSCME has already made a demand to bargain over the impact of the closure if it does go forward and has called on CMS to freeze all vacancies in both DOC and DJJ to ensure that IYC-Kewanee employees will have every opportunity to secure positions in state government.
Upward Mobility Program
With no state budget in place, the Rauner Administration suspended some aspects of the operation of the Upward Mobility Program. No new enrollees have been accepted and no funding is available to pay for college tuition. AFSCME filed a grievance arguing that the program should continue to operate as before, so that employees can enroll, target and test for UMP titles.
The Administration says it agrees that the Upward Mobility Program should resume operations—although without any tuition funding—but it is making a number of staffing and location changes in the program and has been slow to take the steps necessary to launch a new enrollment period. While AFSCME has been doing everything possible to work cooperatively with CMS to get UMP back in gear, the union is continuing to pursue its grievance that would compel full resumption of the program. The grievance is currently headed to arbitration.
In some agencies, state employees have had to put out thousands of dollars of their own money to cover the cost of the travel required by their jobs—and they’ve gone months without getting any reimbursement because of the state budget impasse. AFSCME has now filed suit in state court to seek to compel payment of these monies owed.
A recent Illinois Supreme Court decision overturned lower court rulings the union had won awarding state employees back wages owed under the terms of the union contract. The Supreme Court ruled that the increases are contingent on legislative appropriations. Since the Supreme Court is the court of last resort, AFSCME has now shifted focus to the General Assembly to secure the monies that employees have been owed for nearly five years.
SB 2046, an appropriations measure to fund vital programs that are in jeopardy because the state still does not have a budget, also includes funding for the back pay owed to state employees. It was passed by the General Assembly and sent to the governor, who has indicated he does not intend to sign it. AFSCME lobbyists continue to work with legislators to press for inclusion of the back-pay funding in any budget agreement that is reached.
A fairer tax system
Millionaires and, yes, billionaires in Illinois have one of the lowest income tax rates in the country. And big corporations in our state get over $2 billion in tax breaks annually.
That’s why AFSCME is joining with other concerned organizations in support of HJRCA 59, a measure that would put a constitutional amendment to change our tax system on the November ballot. Currently, the Illinois constitution only permits a “flat” tax whereby everyone pays at the same rate. In contrast, the federal government and more than 30 other states allow for varied rates in which those with higher incomes pay at a higher rate. That not only makes the system fairer but generates much more revenue without overburdening middle-income taxpayers.
It should be up to the voters to decide whether a fair tax system is better for Illinois. But voters won’t get to make that decision unless three-fifths of state legislators vote to allow this question to be put on the November ballot—and so far there hasn’t been such a “super-majority” to vote in support of letting the voters decide. If the measure doesn’t secure the necessary votes in the House by this Tuesday (May 3), it can’t be on the ballot this November.
Clergy support state workers
Last month more than 150 clergy members from all across Illinois signed an open letter containing powerful words in support of state employees:
“Our faith traditions provide a moral compass and direction for the current situation in Illinois… By honoring our state workers who provide vital services each day—helping those in need, safeguarding at-risk children, assisting veterans, protecting the environment, responding to natural disasters, and much more—we care for our neighbors and strengthen the common good… We call upon Gov. Rauner to work constructively through the established bargaining process to reach a resolution, rather than intensifying conflict.”
Courtesy of AFSCME Council 31