Dear AFSCME Member:

This is a very sad day for all those concerned with workers’ rights in our state—and especially for those employees directly impacted by SB 1556.

Yesterday Sen. Don Harmon withdrew his motion to reconsider SB 1556, positioning the bill to go to the governor for his signature. This measure would strip thousands of state employees of their right to union representation. With its passage, the General Assembly has agreed that the governor and other constitutional officers can wipe out employees’ union rights and slash their salaries with the swipe of a pen.

For more than two years now Governor Quinn has relentlessly lobbied for passage of SB 1556. Despite strong opposition from the Illinois AFL-CIO, AFSCME and other unions, the House of Representatives voted to pass SB 1556 in the spring of 2011. Over the following nineteen months, at the behest of the labor movement, Senate President John Cullerton held off any action on the bill in the Senate to allow the affected unions the opportunity to seek to reach a compromise with the Quinn Administration. Unfortunately, even though Governor Quinn was completely unwilling to make a good faith effort to reach such a compromise, the Senate leadership agreed to call the bill for a vote in the legislative session that just concluded. On January 3, the measure passed the Senate.

Within hours of its passage, Sen. Don Harmon, who voted in support of the measure, filed a motion to reconsider, which had the effect of placing the legislation on hold. Sen. Harmon indicated that he wanted to encourage the Quinn Administration to work to reach a compromise with the affected unions.

However, the Administration refused to make any attempt to negotiate such a compromise. If the motion to withdraw had remained in place, once the Senate adjourned on Tuesday, SB 1556 would have died.

Instead Sen. Harmon withdrew his motion based on representations that the Administration made to him, including the following:
1) That the governor would not remove as many positions from the bargaining unit as the law allowed;
2) That the governor would not reduce the salary of anyone removed from the bargaining unit;
3) That a procedure would be established to allow employees removed from the bargaining unit to move to positions still within the bargaining unit “where appropriate”.

AFSCME strongly objected to decision by the Senate Democratic leadership to withdraw the motion to reconsider as there is no binding agreement with the Quinn Administration, nor any form of “trailer” bill in place—only the Administration’s “commitments” to Sen. Harmon.

AFSCME members know from painful experience that Governor Quinn is not a man of his word. Someone who would blatantly violate a legally-binding union contract certainly cannot be counted on to honor a non-binding agreement.

Nonetheless, Sen. Harmon has pledged to continue to seek to foster negotiations that would result in binding agreements regarding the commitments that the governor made to him.

This was a bipartisan assault on labor rights—with both Democrats and Republicans voting in support of this measure that robs affected union members of any legal safeguards or protections—and gives Governor Quinn the patronage positions he has long coveted.

The legislation has an immediate effective date. Once it is signed, Governor Quinn has one year to designate those individuals (subject to the criteria below) whose collective bargaining rights he will take away.

Because this measure amends the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, which establishes which Illinois employees have a right to collective bargaining, there is no basis to challenge the law in court.

However, wherever feasible, the Union intends to challenge positions that Quinn seeks to remove from the bargaining unit before the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The governor will be required to notify the Board of his designations and the Board will likely establish procedural rules for challenges. Unfortunately, because the legislation establishes a “presumption” that the governor’s designations are appropriate, such challenges will be extremely difficult.

SB 1556 will take away bargaining rights from thousands of workers under the jurisdiction of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Comptroller, Treasurer and Board of Elections.

SB 1556 covers employees under the governor who:
1) Have gained union representation on or after December 2, 2008; or
2) For whom a petition for union representation is currently pending before the labor board; or
3) Are not currently represented by a union or part of a pending petition.

It allows the governor to deny collective bargaining rights to 3,580 individuals of his choosing in the above categories who meet any one of certain broad criteria, including anyone in a Rutan-exempt or term appointment position, anyone who has “significant and independent discretionary authority”, or anyone who is a supervisor, even if they do not spend a preponderance of their time supervising.

The bill allows the governor to select up to 1,900 of those positions entirely at his own discretion from the first category—positions already covered by a union contract that were certified by the labor board as being entitled to union representation on or after December 2, 2008.

At this point, there is no way to know which employees currently in the union the governor would designate to lose their right to union representation—but certainly every single former merit compensation employee who was certified as a bargaining unit member on or after December 2, 2008 is at risk.

The only titles under the governor currently in the union that are specifically denied union representation under the terms of this legislation are Legislative Liaisons.

SB 1556 takes away the collective bargaining rights of all employees of the State Board of Elections.

For employees of other constitutional officers (e.g. Attorney General, Secretary of State, etc.), it greatly expands the definition of “managerial and supervisory”, opening the door to excluding many employees currently covered by union contracts in those offices.

AFSCME will not give up the fight to preserve bargaining rights for all union members. It is essential that union members continue to put pressure on those legislators who supported this measure (see attached roll calls) and to demand that they pass new legislation that restores the rights and protections that they have stolen from employees this week.

We will continue to keep you apprised of all developments related to this very destructive legislation.


Henry Bayer
Executive Director