By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – Unionized state workers, staring down the possibility that Gov. Bruce Rauner could unilaterally remake their contract, sued last week to block him.
The Illinois Labor Relations Board had ruled earlier last month that Rauner and about 40,000 state workers represented by AFSCME were at an impasse, giving the anti-union governor the right to impose contract terms unilaterally.
Last week, AFSCME Council 31 asked a St. Clair County circuit judge to halt the imposition of Rauner’s demands, which include a 100 percent increase in health care premiums, a four-year pay freeze and unlimited outsourcing of the work the employees do.
The union said, “Governor Rauner entered a binding legal agreement clearly stating that no changes can be implemented unless the Labor Board finds the parties are at impasse. Under Illinois law, there is no such finding until the Labor Board issues a written decision – which it has not yet done.”
Contract negotiations have been halted since January, when the Rauner administration began a refusal to negotiate that continues to date.
About three dozen legislators representing both major parties held a press conference Nov. 30, calling on Rauner to resume negotiations.
“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,” Rep. Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) said at the event.
“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.”
“I am calling on Governor Rauner to personally take a seat at the bargaining table and see these negotiations through to a mutually agreeable end,” Manar said. “Contract negotiations are among his most important duties as the chief executive of Illinois.”
Failing to negotiate would ultimately damage the Springfield-area economy, he noted.
“I’ve negotiated a dozen contracts in local government in my career, and it wasn’t easy, but I never walked away,” Manar said. “No matter the differences these two sides have, a labor agreement should happen as the result of a true, good-faith negotiation, not a one-sided conversation, which is what we have now.”
Rauner’s so-called “final” offer to the workers includes $1,000 bonuses, overtime pushed back from 37 1/2 to 40 hours, use of volunteers, bereavement leave, a workplace safety task force and a drug and alcohol testing plan.
Rauner spokesman Catherine Kelly said the union litigation could delay the employee bonuses.
“We ask that AFSCME work with us on implementing these common-sense changes and ensure that employees’ bonuses are not delayed because of needless, meritless litigation,” she said.
“We are prepared to consider any of the governor’s proposals and to modify our own, but that requires both parties to be at the bargaining table,” Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall said.
“Governor Rauner should negotiate, not dictate,” he added. “By forcing confrontation instead of seeking compromise, the governor bears responsibility for this litigation and the threat of a disruptive strike.”
Rauner tried to impose some of those unilateral terms last week by announcing the drug- and alcohol-testing plan. Under it, employees can be tested if they show a pattern of erratic behavior, are seen using a substance or have physical symptoms of being under the influence while on the job.
In most cases, those testing positive would be suspended for 30 days and enrolled in an employee assistance program.