AFSCME members authorize first strike

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NEGOTIATE, DON’T DICTATE – Illinois AFSCME members make their point that they are willing to negotiate but won’t let Gov. Bruce Rauner dictate the terms of a new contract, terms which would decimate the union’s ability to represent its members. – AFSCME Council 31 photo

Union willing to compromise, Rauner won’t even meet

By CARL GREEN

Illinois Correspondent

Springfield, IL – In the first-ever strike authorization vote in Illinois state government, an 81 percent majority of the members of the AFSCME Council 31 have voted to give their union bargaining committee the authority to call a strike.

The vote comes after Governor Bruce Rauner broke off negotiations with the union in January and has refused to meet with the bargaining committee ever since. Their contract expired June 30, 2015.

“We have come to this juncture for one reason only: The refusal of Governor Rauner to negotiate with our union,” Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said.

Instead of working toward compromise, Governor Rauner has been seeking the power to unilaterally impose his own extreme demands, including a 100-percent hike in employee costs for health care that would take $10,000 out of the pocket of the average state worker, a four-year wage freeze and an end to safeguards against irresponsible privatization.

“Bruce Rauner may think he can dictate, not negotiate, but this vote shows that AFSCME members are determined to stand up for basic fairness,” Lynch said.

‘WILLING TO DO OUR PART, BUT…’

Stephen Mittons, a child protective investigator in the Department of Human Services, said he had no hesitation in authorizing a strike.

“I voted to authorize a strike because my family needs health care we can afford, because my community needs public services it can rely on, and because Governor Rauner needs to come back to the bargaining table,” he said.

Nicole Power of the Department of Revenue said she can’t understand why Rauner refuses to negotiate.

“As public service workers we are willing to do our part, but it can’t be Governor Rauner’s way or nothing at all,” she said. “He has to be willing to meet us in the middle.”

AFSCME Council 31 represents some 38,000 Illinois state employees in 70 locals who protect kids, care for veterans and the disabled, respond to emergencies, help struggling families and much more.

The vote to authorize the union 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.

UNION WILLING TO COMPROMISE

“State workers don’t want to strike. We are keenly aware of the importance of the public services we provide, and we are willing to compromise,” Lynch said.

“But if Governor Rauner continues to refuse his legal obligation to bargain in good faith, he risks a strike that would shut down state government, and he alone bears responsibility for the harm a strike would cause.”

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Rauner: ‘I’ll proudly shut down government’

During his run for governor, Bruce Rauner cited President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 blow to the Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) as inspiration for how to deal with the state’s unionized workforce. Reagan permanently replaced 11,000 striking federal employees in one of the most dramatic government acts of union-busting in U.S. history.

“I may have to take a strike and shut down the government for a few weeks and kind of redo everybody’s contract,” Rauner told an audience of enthusiastic Republicans in a video that surfaced during his 2014 campaign. “I will do it proudly.”

His administration has also floated the possibility of deploying the Illinois National Guard to replace strikers.

How’s that for a “leader” of the state!?

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