New Contract In Effect — Over the past three weeks, AFSCME members at worksites statewide participated in a second round of voting on a new state contract. When all the votes were in, state employees had once again voted by a solid majority—93%—to ratify the contract. The new agreement goes into effect this week and union members can now count on having all of the rights and protections on the job that the union contract provides.

It took 15 long months of intensive battling to secure this new agreement, which preserves the important job rights that management sought to eliminate and protects the standard of living of union members. But even with the contract in place, our fight is far from over.

First and foremost, we must ensure that the General Assembly passes the supplemental appropriation—HB 212 HA 2—to ensure that all union members receive the back pay owed pursuant to the previous contract. AFSCME’s lobbyists at the State Capitol are working intensively to build support for this measure, together with lobbyists from the nurses, teachers, laborers and police benevolent unions whose members are also awaiting back wages owed under their previous contracts. But the bill hasn’t even been called for a vote in committee yet!

Your involvement at the grassroots level is critical. Legislators need to hear from you directly. With less than two weeks remaining in this legislative session, call your state representative today! Tell him or her: “We’ve waited long enough for the wages we’re owed. We’re out on the frontlines everyday doing our jobs and we deserve the pay we were promised. I urge you to do everything you can to make sure that House Amendment 2 to House Bill 212 is passed right away.”

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

Budget Madness — As legislators come down to the wire in crafting a new state budget in these tough fiscal times, the temptation to look for shortcuts and scapegoats is becoming irresistible to some. Governor Quinn’s original FY 14 budget proposal did not include any new facility closures or layoffs beyond the proposed closure of the Murray Center, but legislators from both parties in houses now appear poised to lower the budget axe on already resource-starved state agencies.

Some legislators are criticizing the negotiated pay raise for state employees that is included in the budget—claiming that state employees don’t deserve a pay increase in tough times. Make sure that your state senators and state representatives know that the raises are due on July 1 pursuant to the union contract and must be honored.

Here are some other trouble spots where AFSCME members can help right now:

The House Human Services Appropriation Committee is talking about forcing DCFS employees to “bid” against private agencies for the work that state employees currently perform because, they allege, DCFS caseworkers are paid too much. If you work for DCFS, call your state representative today, explain the difficult and challenging work you do, why it cannot just be contracted out, and why you deserve every penny in pay you receive.
The House Public Safety Appropriations Committee is considering budget cuts that would result in the closure of multiple DOC facilities—unnamed as yet. If you work for DOC, it’s important to let your state representatives know just how overcrowded and understaffed Illinois correctional facilities currently are and how disastrous further cutbacks would be.
A draft budget plan in the Senate would cut nearly 9% from the DJJ budget introduced by the governor. If you work for DJJ, make sure your state senator knows that the department is already struggling with far too few resources to maintain safety and foster rehabilitation of incarcerated youth.
The Senate’s draft budget plan appears to eliminate modest staff increases proposed by the Governor in several agencies—DHS, DHFS, DNR, DVA, ISP—and in some cases even makes additional cuts. If you work in any of those agencies, be sure your senator knows the problems such cuts would create.
The Senate budget plan cuts half of the funding for the Upward Mobility Program that the governor included at the level negotiated in the new contract. If you are a participant in UMP, make sure your state senator knows how important this program is to you.

Pension Choices — SB 2404, backed by the We Are One Illinois union coalition, would provide “consideration,” or options for employees and retirees, that would let each affected individual choose a revised retirement benefit plan that would be best for him or herself.

Employees and retirees did not create the current pension underfunding crisis. But all have a very big stake in assuring the solvency of the pension funds as we look to our future retirement years. In order to ensure the fiscal soundness of the SERS, SURS and TRS pension systems, SB 2404 provides a legally-enforceable guarantee that pension contributions will be made. It also requires that employees and retirees help address the problem.

SB 2404 was developed through extensive negotiations between We Are One Illinois and Senate President John Cullerton. Our coalition worked very hard to limit the impact of changes on employees and retirees, while still ensuring that the pension debt could be paid down. In all, SB 2404 generates some $46 billion toward fixing the state’s pension problems.

Yet these very significant savings are not enough for the Big Business interests that dominate the media and many legislators in our state. While the Senate passed SB 2404 by a significant majority, it is now stalled in the House. Backed by a chorus of newspaper editorials—especially the Chicago Tribune—the push is on for legislators to instead support SB 1, which is sponsored by Speaker Michael Madigan and has already passed the House.

SB 1 would make draconian cuts to the pension benefits of both active and retired public employees. It offers no consideration or choices, just slash, slash, slash. It would drastically reduce the annual cost-of-living adjustment, raise the retirement age, require additional employee contributions and place a limit on pensionable salary.

This is one choice that’s very clear. Big Business is stepping up the pressure on legislators to pass SB 1. We’ve got to make sure we’re generating greater pressure in support of SB 2404. Call your legislators right away. Tell your state representative: “We want the House to pass SB 2404 without any amendments. I urge you to sign on as a cosponsor of SB 2404 and help bring it to the floor for a vote!” Tell your senator: “I urge you to vote NO on SB 1.”

Call the We Are One Illinois toll-free hotline at 888-412-6570 and enter your zip code to be connected directly to your senator.

Down Payment on Back Pay — Many state employees are at last beginning to see some additional dollars in their paychecks or accompanying checks. This month all agencies are implementing a grievance resolution reached between AFSCME and the state which provides for a one-step increase based on the step increase that was withheld in all agencies when the previous union contract expired on June 30, 2012. Employees who were due a step increase are to be moved up one step on their creditable service date and made whole for that step back to July 1, 2012.

Employees in DOC, DJJ, DPH, DNR, DHS and HRC are still owed back pay dating from July 1, 2011 pursuant to the previous contract. In the course of the legal battle in Cook County Circuit Court over the unpaid wages, AFSCME attorneys were able to demonstrate to the court that there were funds available in the FY12 budget that could be used toward payment of these back wages.

The judge placed those funds—approximately $42 million—in escrow. Once he issued his ruling, the union requested that the funds be released from the escrow account and paid out. The judge agreed.

Because the funds were appropriated in the FY 12 budget, they can only be used for back pay owed from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. In addition, many of these dollars are restricted in how they can be distributed (e.g., federal grants made only for specific purposes or appropriations for specific agencies or facilities). This means that the distribution to employees will not be uniform—even within a particular agency—and many employees will not receive any payment at all from the escrow funds.

If an employee is eligible to be paid from these funds, the calculation of the amount owed will include wages, steps, overtime, stand-by, call-back, temporary assignment, premium, bilingual and longevity pay. However, for the reasons cited above, employees will receive only a portion of what they are owed and many employees will not receive any back pay from these escrowed funds.

The state is now in the process of dispersing these funds to employees. The process is expected to take several weeks to complete. This payment will be issued as a separate check or direct deposit, not included in the regular paycheck, with appropriate taxes withheld.

It’s important to keep in mind that these escrow funds are not sufficient to pay all of the back wages owed. The full amount owed is included in HB 212, HA 2. That’s why it’s so important to contact your legislators and urge their support for this supplemental appropriation.

Close corporate tax loopholes! — Even as the corporate elite is demanding even deeper cuts to public employee pension benefits, they continue to jealously guard billions of dollars in tax giveaways that the State of Illinois hands out.

Every year Illinois loses more than $2 billion in revenue to corporate tax loopholes—dollars that could be used to fix our ailing pension system or prevent cuts to vital public services. The tax freebies range from blatant giveaways to well-intentioned failures.

What they all have in common is ineffectiveness. These loopholes aren’t doing anything to save or create jobs in Illinois, and they aren’t doing anything to help the state’s working families.

The Responsible Budget Coalition, of which AFSCME is a member, is leading the charge to close corporate tax loopholes right now by passing HB 1159. But legislative leaders, too closely tied to corporate interests, are resisting.

Visit CloseLoopholesNow.org to send a message to your legislators. Make sure they know that if they are going to ask public employees to do more to solve the pension crisis—and Illinois citizens to accept less when it comes to education, public safety and other needed services—they ought to be willing to make sure that Big Business doesn’t continue to milk Illinois dry with useless tax giveaways.

Via AFSCME Council 31