Today is an unwelcome “anniversary”: It is almost exactly one year to the day since Governor Rauner walked out on negotiations for a new state employee contract. As we made clear then—and have since reiterated—the proposals that your AFSCME Bargaining Committee had on the table at that time were by no means our final offer and we were fully prepared to make further modifications to them.

But instead the governor chose to attack those proposals as excessive while refusing to return to the bargaining table so that they could be modified. And as you know well, he asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board—which he appoints—to declare negotiations to be at “impasse,” opening the door for him to impose his own extreme terms on state employees.

When the Labor Board granted his request, Rauner announced that he would immediately move forward with imposing those terms. While he began with some of the less objectionable elements, there was no doubt that he intended to move swiftly to impose his entire agenda, including elimination of all safeguards against irresponsible subcontracting, a four-year wage freeze, a four-year step freeze, and a 100% increase in employee health care premiums.

AFSCME has appealed the Labor Board’s decision to the First District Appellate Court and has requested a stay that would prevent the governor from imposing his terms until the appeal is decided. The request for the stay is before a three-judge panel of the court. Just before the holidays, one of the judges issued a temporary stay until the full panel can meet and make a ruling. This means that at least until that time, the Rauner Administration cannot impose any of its terms on employees.

This past year of legal and workplace conflicts regarding a new contract for state employees has not served our state well. The governor has spent large sums of taxpayer dollars on outside legal counsel, drastically diminished employee morale, pushed state employees to consider going out on strike, and exacerbated the instability that is harming our state’s future.

A path forward was recently suggested by the outcome of the interest arbitration to resolve the contract dispute between the Rauner Administration and Illinois State Troopers Lodge 41/FOP. The independent arbitrator’s award in that case provided for a four-year wage freeze, but rejected the governor’s extreme health care cost increases. Instead the arbitrator chose much more modest health care increases proposed by Troopers Lodge 41.

Last week your AFSCME Bargaining Committee met and voted to take an unprecedented action. Since the governor has continued to refuse to engage in further negotiations, AFSCME is taking the initiative to unilaterally and publicly put forward a new framework for a fair contract settlement that significantly modifies the union’s previous positions.

Today I sent a letter to Governor Rauner that puts forth this settlement framework on core economic issues:

  • Employees would forgo any base wage increases in all four years of the contract.
  • Employee contributions toward health insurance premium costs would increase by 2.5% immediately and an additional 3% in both FY 18 and FY 19, along with increases in co-pays and deductibles—the same terms which the independent arbitrator found to be acceptable in the State Police interest arbitration.
  • The amounts the governor already proposed to expend on employee bonuses—$1,000 per employee in the first year of the contract and 2% of payroll in each subsequent year—would be equitably distributed to all employees as one-time payments in each of those years.
  • In order to prevent large pay differentials among employees performing the same work, the 40% of employees who have not reached the top of their pay plan would move up to the next step in that plan in FY 18 and 19.

I made clear that this is not AFSCME’s ‘last, best and final offer’ on these issues—and that we also stand ready to negotiate further on all other outstanding issues.
Our framework clearly refutes the claims the governor has made that the union’s economic proposal is unduly costly. Under this framework, state employees would pay more for health insurance in three of the four years while receiving no base wage increase in any of the four years. This highlights what we have stressed from the outset: AFSCME members are willing to do our part to help address the state’s financial woes.

As I said in my letter to the governor, we hope that this unprecedented action taken by the AFSCME Bargaining Committee will serve as an impetus for his administration to return to the bargaining table and make a sincere effort to reach a fair contract settlement that can avert a potential strike, allowing state employees to continue to do the work to which you are deeply committed and which is so vital to the citizens of our state.

In Unity,

Roberta Lynch
Executive Director

VIA AFSCME Council 31