By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – For the first time, impasse has been declared in contract talks between the state of Illinois and about 40,000 state workers represented by AFSCME Council 31.
That could allow Gov. Bruce Rauner to force contract terms upon the workers that they would not accept in bargaining, including lengthening their work week, canceling raises and doubling their costs for healthcare.
The Illinois Labor Relations Board on Nov. 15 ruled unanimously that the governor and the workers had reached an impasse in long-stalled contract negotiations on at least one issue – Rauner’s demand to cut costs by outsourcing state services.
The board said that impasse is enough to consider the entire negotiating process stalled, which then gives Rauner the right to attempt to impose his terms unilaterally – while the union has the right to strike, something it has never done.
The next step will come when the decision is put into writing and issued. Rauner’s spokesman said implementing his contract would save $3 billion over four years.
Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said the union is not at any impasse and is prepared to continue the year-long negotiations that have been slowed much of this year by Rauner’s refusal to meet.
“The governor is trying to force state workers to accept his unfair terms or go out on strike,” she said. “We have consistently made clear that we are prepared to continue negotiating, while the Rauner Administration’s refusal to meet has sabotaged the collective bargaining process.”
The check on this abuse of the process is supposed to be the Labor Relations Board, which instead was showing its political nature. Rauner appointed two of the five members. Two others had been appointed earlier but were re-appointed by Rauner, demonstrating again how Labor is hurt when a corporatist, anti-union governor is elected.
Rauner appointee Keith Snyder, a former mayor of Lincoln, said there was little doubt about an impasse over outsourcing.
“Subcontracting was the insurmountable issue that really got to the heart of the beliefs of both parties – dealing with what the state is trying to deal with in terms of financial crisis and AFSCME trying to deal with protection of jobs and members’ jobs and things like that,” he told the Chicago Tribune.
The Board overruled the opinion of its administrative law judge, Sarah Kerley, who said negotiations are not yet stalled on key issues such as wages, in part because the state has not provided key information needed by the union.
“If the state were able to implement its entire last, best and final offer, the implications and impact would be so enormous that, when applied to this case, it would be destructive of the collective bargaining process and not serve the statutory mission of the board,” Kerley wrote in her recommendation to the board.
NEGOTIATE, NOT DICTATE
AFSCME was planning to begin picketing around the state to encourage Rauner to resume negotiations.
“The governor is trying to force state workers to accept his unfair terms or go out on strike,” Lynch said. “The governor should negotiate, not dictate.”
In 30 years of negotiating contracts for state employees, AFSCME has never gone on strike nor reached an impasse in negotiations.
The union offered this description of what its members do: “Illinois state employees represented by AFSCME Council 31 protect kids from abuse and neglect, care for veterans and individuals with developmental disabilities, keep prisons safe, respond to emergencies, maintain state parks and historic sites and provide many other vital public services statewide every day.”
AFSCME entered the negotiations seeking a two percent raise in the first year and three percent raises in the following years, with expanded parental leave and additional health benefits.
Rauner had proposed to freeze wages and institute a merit pay system with bonuses that would not raise pensions, increase employees’ share of health care costs and increase the work week before overtime kicks in from 37.5 to 40 hours, plus unlimited outsourcing.