Make the Call for Back Pay Owed — The fight to ensure that every state employee receives the wages owed under the previous union contract is now front and center in the Illinois General Assembly. House Amendment 2 to HB 212, a supplemental appropriation for $140 million to pay back wages owed in six state agencies, is now awaiting action in the House Public Safety Appropriations Committee.

The following state representatives have signed on as cosponsors of this legislation: J. Bradley (chief sponsor), A. Riley, C. Lilly, L. Walsh, L. Chapa Lavia, P. Verschoore, D. Beiser, B. Phelps, F. Hurley, B. Mitchell, K. Dunkin, M. Bost.

If your state representative is not on this list, call him or her right away with this message: “House Amendment 2 to HB 212 will ensure that justice is done for thousands of state employees who have been waiting nearly two years for their negotiated pay increase. I urge you to show your support by signing on as a cosponsor of this important measure.”

You can call toll-free to be connected directly to your state representative via the AFSCME hotline at 888-912-5959.

Contract Re-Vote Underway — When a tentative agreement was reached after 15 long and contentious months of negotiations, union members voted overwhelmingly to ratify it. However, because one of the conditions on which the original contract ratification vote was based has not been met, a new vote on the question of whether to approve the contract is now underway at worksites throughout the state.

That condition was the Quinn Administration’s agreement to withdraw its appeal of a circuit court ruling that the previous union contract must be honored and negotiated wages paid to employees.

After the contract ratification vote had taken place, the Illinois Attorney General notified the Administration that the AG did not intend to withdraw the appeal at this time. To protect the integrity of the ratification process, the AFSCME Bargaining Committee decided that the tentative agreement should be re-submitted to union members for another vote based on the new information. The Bargaining Committee recommended a YES vote on approving the contract.

Voting is expected to wrap up this week and the results will be announced once all local unions have reported.

Pitched Pension Battle — For more than two years now, the We Are One Illinois coalition of public employee unions has been battling to block efforts to decimate or even dismantle pension benefits for public sector retirees. Throughout that time, the coalition repeatedly stressed labor’s willingness to work with legislators to develop a constructive and fair solution to the severe underfunding crisis that afflicts SERS, SURS and TRS. However, for more than a year the governor and legislative leaders attempted to craft their own pension legislation and refused to involve the union coalition in that process.

In recent months, several of those measures began moving forward in the General Assembly. The most onerous of them, SB 1, passed the House by a narrow margin and headed over to the Senate.

SB 1 affects both current employees and retirees. It would:

Severely limit the amount on which the annual pension cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) could be calculated;
Change the method of calculating the COLA from compound to simple interest;
Freeze the COLA for the first five years of retirement (or until age 67);
Require an additional 2% employee contribution; and
Raise the retirement age for all employees under age 46.
With the threat of SB 1 looming, Senate President John Cullerton initiated a series of discussions with the We Are One Illinois leadership that resulted in a much fairer and more responsible pension bill, SB 2404. It provides an ironclad guarantee that the state will make its contributions to the pension fund from this day forward, and offers employees and retirees a range of choices that allows each individual to determine the best course for his/her own situation.

Last week SB 2404 passed the Senate by a wide margin, with virtually all Democrats and several Republicans voting in favor. But no sooner had the voting concluded than the corporate elite and their allies who want to drastically reduce pension benefits began an all-out media assault on SB 2404 (sponsored by Sen. Pres. Cullerton), throwing their weight solidly behind SB 1 (sponsored by Speaker Madigan). While the State Journal-Register backed SB 2404, both the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times endorsed SB 1 and sharply attacked SB 2404.

Their complaint? That the $46 billion that SB 2404 will save the state of Illinois isn’t enough. What does that mean? That they want more money—much more—out of the pockets of public employees and retirees, which is exactly what they will get with SB 1.

SB 2404 is now awaiting action in the House of Representatives. That’s why it’s so important to contact your State Representative right now and tell him or her to support SB 2404 without any amendments or changes. Call the We Are One Illinois toll-free hotline at 888-412-6570 and enter your zip code to be connected directly to your state representative.

SB 1556 Implementation on Hold — Despite fierce resistance from organized labor, earlier this year the General Assembly passed SB 1556 and Governor Quinn quickly signed it into law. This law will allow the governor to remove collective bargaining rights from up to 3,580 positions—including up to 1,900 union positions—if they are in one of the following categories:

Positions that were certified in a union bargaining unit on or after December 2, 2008;
Positions for which a petition for union representation is currently pending before the state labor board; or
Positions not currently represented by a union or part of a pending petition.
AFSCME is seeking to minimize the harm this new law will do. In order to secure the support of the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Don Harmon, the Quinn Administration committed to discuss implementation of the law with the union. The union’s goals include reducing the number of bargaining unit employees impacted from the 1,900 permitted by the new law and protecting employees who are impacted from any reduction in pay. Those discussions are ongoing and as a result, the Administration has not yet taken any steps to implement the new law.

DOC/DJJ Agreements Reached — The union has reached agreement with DOC and DJJ on two important issues. The first pertains to temporary assignments. After winning an arbitration decision and a court order requiring DOC and DJJ to stick to the time limits set forth in the contract for Temporary Assignments, the union returned to court seeking a contempt citation against the agencies for their continued violation of the T.A. provisions of the Master Agreement.

With the threat of legal action pending, the departments finally agreed to steps that should resolve many of the longstanding conflicts surrounding Temporary Assignments:

All positions that are currently filled by temporary assignment in excess of the time limits shall be filled on a permanent basis by June 30, 2013. Those positions are identified in the agreement.
All temporary assignments will be terminated at the end of their contractual time limits unless an extension is specifically approved by a Council 31 designee.
The filling of these positions will provide promotional opportunities for more than 150 DOC/DJJ employees who in many cases have been waiting years to climb their agencies’ promotional ladders.

The second agreement that AFSCME reached with DOC and DJJ resulted in the implementation of an immediate recall in a way that minimizes disruption for those employees who had been displaced as the result of their facility’s closure or bumped by an employee from a closed facility. In many instances, the affected employees were able to secure a position closer to the facility from which they were displaced, and in the case of trainees who otherwise might have had to move to a facility other than the one for which they had been hired, to stay at their home facility.

The agreement further provides for transfer lists that had been frozen to open up as soon as the recall is completed.

As a result of this agreement, scores of employees will gain positions at or near their chosen work location.

Save the Murray Center — AFSCME members at the Murray Developmental Center are continuing to work closely with the families of Center residents to stave off Governor Quinn’s attempt to shut down the facility. They have traveled to Springfield to personally educate legislators from across the state about the vital role that the Murray Center plays in the lives of more than 250 individuals with severe developmental disabilities, and they continue to reach out to allies in the local community who understand the importance of the center to the economy of the region.

The Quinn Administration has subcontracted the closure process to an outside firm, Community Resource Associates, which is putting intense pressure on parents to agree to an assessment process that is intended to push individuals out of the Center—but many parents are holding firm and refusing to agree.

Administration Targets State Mental Health Centers — Changes to state law in recent years have significantly reduced the number of mentally ill individuals who are being served in specialized for-profit nursing homes, known as Institutions for Mental Disease (IMDs). Traditionally these IMDs served individuals with chronic mental health problems, many of whom were highly functional and are now living more independently in community settings. That has left the IMDs to search for a new mission, and Governor Quinn’s chief mental health aide has just the thing for them: Take over responsibilities of state mental health centers, including housing individuals now served on forensic units who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity or unfit to stand trial by the legal system.

Fortunately, several advocacy groups are standing up to the Quinn Administration and resisting efforts to make it easier to place individuals in the IMDs. However, the Administration continues to press for a redefinition of the population that IMDs serve to make it easier to deflect individuals in acute crisis from state hospitals to for-profit nursing homes. Legislation is being developed that would effectuate a redefinition of the role that IMDs play, and AFSCME lobbyists have been closely monitoring this process and working to educate all concerned parties about the important and necessary role that state mental health centers play in a continuum of care and services for individuals with mental illness.

Maximus Contract Contested — AFSCME is continuing its efforts to educate legislators about the inefficiency of the Maximus contract that DHFS entered into for Medicaid eligibility reviews. AFSCME’s analysis demonstrates that the work could be performed more cheaply in-house, with a savings of at least $18 million annually.

In addition, the union has filed a grievance regarding the Maximus contract pursuant to the subcontracting language of the state master agreement. The grievance is now before an arbitrator. In January, the arbitrator ordered management to meet with the union to attempt to reach a resolution. Unfortunately, no adequate offer was made by management that would encourage a settlement. The hearing began April 4 and concluded last week. The arbitrator is expected to issue his decision in late June.

A major part of the union’s case was based on the information shared by DHS and DHFS workers who provided concrete examples of the inefficiency inherent in the new Maximus procedures.

Payment of FY 13 Step Increase — When the previous union contract expired on June 30, 2012, the employer took the position that it was not obligated to pay the step increase due to employees on their creditable service date. The union immediately filed a grievance to contest this decision.

Last month the Quinn Administration agreed to settle that grievance and move all employees who were due a step increase up one step on their creditable service date, as well as to pay any wages owed for that step back to the date in FY13 it was due. That settlement is now in the process of being implemented. Employees in some agencies have already received the one-step salary adjustment and employees in all other agencies should receive it on paychecks issued by the end of the month.

Via AFSCME Council 31