Illinois’ largest public-employee union has authorized a strike if contract talks don’t progress.
The state council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees held a news conference Thursday morning to announce the results of a strike-authorization vote.
AFSCME Council 31 executive director Roberta Lynch said 81 percent of union members voted in favor of the strike authorization.
The union has been unable to agree with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration on a contract to replace one that expired in June 2015.
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“We have come to this juncture for one reason only: the refusal of Governor Rauner to negotiate with our union,” Lynch said. “Bruce Rauner may think he can dictate, not negotiate, but this vote shows that AFSCME members are determined to stand up for basic fairness.”
We have come to this juncture for one reason only: the refusal of Governor Rauner to negotiate with our union.
Roberta Lynch, AFSCME Council 31 executive director
Rauner’s office issued a statement saying AFSCME leaders “will do or say anything to avoid implementing a contract that is fair to both taxpayers and state employees alike,” and that if a strike happens, “we will use every resource to ensure services continue to be available to the people of Illinois.”
The vote to authorize the union’s bargaining committee to call a strike does not necessarily mean that there will be a strike. The bargaining committee will meet in the coming days to chart its path, and pending litigation could also play a role.
Employees at work sites across the state voted from Jan. 30 through Sunday. They were asked whether to give the union’s executive committee power to call a strike if necessary.
It’s the first such vote in 40 years of state-employee collective bargaining.
Tad Hawk, of Shiloh, who is a sales representative for the state lottery and serves as president of the AFSCME local that covers 12 counties in the metro-east region, said the strike-authorization vote is historic. Hawk, who voted in favor of the strike authorization, said Rauner is being unreasonable.
“He’s pretty much dealing with us the same way he’s dealt with the legislature on the budget. He insists on his way; he’s being stubborn,” Hawk said. “He’s trying to dictate what’s going to happen instead of trying to negotiate.”
He’s pretty much dealing with us the same way he’s dealt with the legislature on the budget. He insists on his way; he’s being stubborn. He’s trying to dictate what’s going to happen instead of trying to negotiate.
Tad Hawk, lottery sales rep and AFSCME member
A state labor regulator declared last fall that talks had reached “impasse.” That allows Rauner to implement the employment terms he prefers and the union to strike if it chooses.
Hawk said he thinks an eventual strike is “unfortunately fairly likely” to happen.
“We’re hoping not. What we’re trying to do is send a message to Gov. Rauner that we’re serious about this, and he needs to come back to the negotiating table. That’s what we really want. None of us wants a strike,” Hawk said.
The union represents about 38,000 Illinois state employees. The union represents workers in a variety of state agencies, such as the Department of Revenue, Department of Corrections, Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Natural Resources and Department of Human Services.
According to the right-leaning Illinois Policy Institute, the average salary for employees of Illinois state government is $59,088. State government workers in Illinois are the highest-paid in the country after adjusting for cost-of-living differences between states, according to the organization.
The groups says more than half of state workers retire in their 50s, and career workers receive average lifetime pension benefits of $1.6 million.
Hawk, whose salary is about $72,000, said interest groups tend to cherry-pick data about state employee pay and benefits.
“If you look at per capita, we have fewer state employees than other states do. Most of these employees are doing the work of more than one person, with fewer resources,” Hawk said.
Hawk said the union has been willing to accept a four-year pay freeze and higher insurance costs, but is opposed to plans that would allow the governor to “privatize” state jobs.
Rauner administration statement
Dennis Murashko, general counsel for the Rauner administration, issued the following statement:
“The vote to authorize a strike is an attack on our state’s hardworking taxpayers and all those who rely on critical services provided everyday. It is a direct result of AFSCME leadership’s ongoing misinformation campaign about our proposal.
“AFSCME leaders would rather strike than work 40 hours a week before earning overtime. They want to earn overtime after working just 37.5 hours per week.
“AFSCME leaders would rather strike than allow volunteers like Boy Scout troops to lend a helping hand inside government. They want to ban the use of volunteers.
“AFSCME leaders would rather strike than allow state employees to be paid based on merit. They want to stick to paying people based on seniority, regardless of whether they’re doing a good job.
“And while hard-working families across the state face skyrocketing health insurance premiums, AFSCME leaders want to strike to force higher taxes to subsidize their health care plans that are far more generous than taxpayers have.
“Put simply, AFSCME leaders will do or say anything to avoid implementing a contract that is fair to both taxpayers and state employees alike.
“If AFSCME chooses to strike, we will use every resource to ensure services continue to be available to the people of Illinois. We continue to encourage AFSCME to work with us in implementing a contract that is similar to those ratified by 20 other unions.”
Rauner’s office said these are highlights of the governor’s proposal:
▪ “Employees continue to be among the best-paid in the nation: average total annual compensation, with benefits, is over $100,000.
▪ “Health insurance options allowing employees to select what is best for them and their families.
▪ “Depending on the choice of health insurance plan, monthly premiums can be as low as zero (AFSCME falsely claims everyone’s premiums will double).
▪ “Temporary pay freeze (not permanent, as AFSCME claims when it falsely says the state is permanently eliminating step increases).
▪ “A merit incentive program that extends to all employees a plan similar to one successfully implemented for AFSCME-represented Lottery sales reps four years ago.
▪ “Additional safeguards against privatization, along the lines of what AFSCME has negotiated in its CBAs with employees in other states.
▪ “Retention of bumping rights during layoffs.
▪ “Modest changes to overtime provisions without changing the work week employees always had.”
Potential costs of strike
Rauner’s office said these are potential costs of a strike by AFSCME workers:
▪ “No pay during the strike.
▪ “No health insurance subsidy during the strike.
▪ “No credit toward pension benefits during the strike.
▪ “Average monthly cost to a striking employee is over $8,000.
▪ “No one knows how long a strike may be; whether employees strike or not, the state simply cannot afford AFSCME leadership’s demands of billions of dollars in additional pay and benefits during the four-year contract at issue.
▪ “Replacement workers can be hired to maintain services during a strike, and in some cases, those replacement workers may be permanent.
▪ “In contrast, employees who cross the picket line continue to receive their pay and benefits and retain their same job protections — contrary to AFSCME’s claim, they do not become ‘at will.’”