AFSCME, Rauner administration still at odds

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — There’s been a bit of progress in talks between Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration and AFSCME Council 31, but the sides still appear far apart.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees this week sent its state-employee members a bargaining update in which the union says that although progress had been made on a few issues, the administration is trying to drive down the standard of living for state employees and weaken union rights.

The Republican governor’s administration, which has generally not commented on negotiations, issued a short response: “After reaching an agreement with the Teamsters, we continue to negotiate in good faith with AFSCME and work to ensure all of their members get paid during the budget impasse.”

In its update to members, AFSCME 31 cited management proposals it considers unacceptable. Among other things, the union says those include:

— No wage increases for the term of the contract, as well as elimination of longevity pay.
— Reductions in other compensation, such as call-back and stand-by pay.
— Greatly increased out-of-pocket costs for medical and dental benefits.
— Requiring all employees hired before July 1, 2011, to “voluntarily” accept Tier 2 pension benefits.

The governor’s office and AFSCME earlier this year reached a deal to extend terms and conditions for an additional month past the contract’s expiration date, to July 31. The union said as that date it approaches, it has again asked for the contract to be extended but not received an answer.

AFSCME continues to support Senate Bill 1229, which — if enacted — could stop a strike or lockout.

That legislation would allow either side to declare a bargaining impasse, at which time an arbitrator would be chosen. Once the binding arbitration hearing begins, a strike or lockout would be prohibited.

Democrats say the measure would protect the public’s access to state services. The GOP, however, says the measure is political and aimed at stripping bargaining and decision-making power from the state’s elected chief executive, Rauner, and putting it in the hands of an unelected and unaccountable official.

That measure passed the House on a vote 67 to 25 with three members voting present and 23 representatives not voting. It passed the Senate 38 to 17 with with no senators voting present and four members not voting.

The governor has not supported the bill and is expected to veto it. Proponents would need 71 votes in the House and 36 in the Senate to override a Rauner veto.

AFSCME is urging its members to contact State Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, and ask him to support an override. The legislator, who represents many Capital City employees, did not cast a vote at the time of the bill’s passage in the House.

Efforts to reach Poe at his Springfield office for comment on Friday afternoon were not successful.

The union says it doesn’t want to to strike but will if forced.

“For us, a strike is a last resort, a step we will take only if absolutely necessary to protect our rights and our standard of living,” it said in its bargaining update.

AFSCME represents about 38,000 state employees.

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