Metro-East News

State workers rally with hopes of getting back to bargaining table

The thought of a strike frightens Dawn Sanson, an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services employee.

“I don’t know what it would be like if we weren’t there to protect the children,” said Sanson, who works in Jerseyville and is a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1805.

That scenario is a real possibility, though. Earlier this week, the Illinois Labor Relations Board ruled that contract negotiations between AFSCME and the state had reached an impasse. As a result, Gov. Bruce Rauner will be able to implement his last offer. Rauner believes his plan, which calls for a 40-hour work week, instead of the current 37.5-hour week, and a merit-pay system, will save the state $3 billion over a four-year period.

Sanson made the trip from her Carlinville home on Thursday to take part in a “Don’t Dictate, Negotiate” event at Sheet Metal Workers Local 268 hall. A standing-room-only crowd packed the hall. The event was part of a “Day of Action” AFSCME members had throughout the state. The day included demonstrations, speak-outs, rallies and pickets at more than 120 worksites throughout the state.

Newly elected state house representatives LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, and Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, spoke to the crowd, pledging their support.

“I will be with you as you fight in Springfield,” Greenwood said to cheers. “You can count on that.”

Tad Hawk, president of AFSCME Local 1805, said he fears his organization is heading toward a strike vote for the first time in its history.

“We’re willing to make concessions,” said Hawk, who works for the Illinois Lottery. “We know we need to do that for the health of our state, but we also need to protect our members. ... If the governor won’t work with us and forces us out on strike, then these people are going to be hurt as well. We don’t want that. We just want a fair contract.”

Hawk said the local union represents between 850 and 900 people in 22 counties who work for 26 state agencies. There are 38,000 AFSCME workers statewide, he said.

Hawk is worried about how health-insurance rates will affect the membership, a fear that was echoed by Sanson. Hawk said insurance costs will go up 100 percent under Rauner’s plan.

“I have a family, and we rely on my health insurance,” she said.

It is unknown how a strike might affect the agencies that are represented by ASFCME members.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like for the services to end or to come to a halt,” Sanson said. “The children need us. The number of reports we get in a day are overwhelming. I can’t imagine what it would be like in the prisons or the care for the elderly. It would be difficult to continue without our support.”

Hawk is hoping it doesn’t come down to a strike and that the state will return to the negotiating table. He’s not alone.

“Though the Board’s ruling would allow Gov. Rauner to impose a contract, I urge the governor and his administration to instead return to the bargaining table,” State Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, said in a news release. “Keeping Illinois workers on the job while bargaining in good faith would be the best option for Illinois moving forward.

“With both sides at the bargaining table, I firmly believe that the governor’s administration and AFSCME will be able to come to a fair agreement that will benefit both working families and taxpayers. I remain firm in my support of Illinois workers and look forward to seeing both sides return to negotiating so that the state can reach a fair contract.”

A statement from Rauner’s office sounded like the state was satisfied with the labor board’s ruling.

“The contract, mirroring agreements we have already reached with eighteen other unions, includes merit pay for the vast majority of AFSCME employees and the same forty-hour work week requirement that applies to most employees outside state government,” Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a news release. “It will also allow individuals to volunteer their time to help fellow Illinois residents through things like assisting social services agencies, cleaning up state parks or training state employees.

“We thank the Labor Board for its careful work and hope AFSCME will partner with us as we consider how best to implement the contract.”

The state ended contract talks with AFSCME, the largest union of Illinois state employees, in January. The state has not met with the union bargaining committee since.

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