By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration and the state’s biggest public-employee union agreed Wednesday to stay at the bargaining table, this time for two additional months, without threat of strike or lockout.
Also on Wednesday, the governor vetoed Senate Bill 1229, which Democrats say is aimed at preventing a strike or lockout and continuing state services.
Rauner and GOP legislators, however, say that bill would put one of the state’s biggest decisions in the hands of an unelected person and could force the state to accept the union’s terms in whole.
And in a third development Wednesday, the governor’s lead attorney told state agency directors the governor simply would not lock out state employees.
The new extension or “tolling agreement” between the Rauner administration and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 31, among other things, says:
— The state and the union will continue to bargain in good faith and “neither party will resort to a strike, work stoppage, work slowdown or lockout between Aug. 31 … and Sept. 30 or until an impasse is reached, whichever comes later.”
— The state and the union continue to disagree on whether the state has an obligation to continue step pay increases and semi-automatic promotion increases.
— Unless otherwise spelled out in the agreement, both parties retain their rights that existed on June 30, the date of the previous contract’s expiration.
This is the second such agreement between the administration and the union. The first covered the month of July.
The governor’s office released the document without comment.
Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME 31, released a prepared statement, part of which said the “extension underscores our union’s commitment to reaching a fair agreement with no disruption to state services, and gives us the ability to keep working toward an agreement”
“Even so, the parties remain very far apart on many basic issues as a result of the Rauner administration’s continued extreme demands that would … strip the rights of public service workers, reduce access to health care and make it impossible to keep pace with the rising cost of living,” the union said.
In his veto message on Senate Bill 1229, the governor made it clear that he sees things differently.
The bill, Rauner said, “is … based on a false premise that our administration has been unreasonable in labor negotiations and wants to lock-out employees or prompt an employee strike. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have negotiated in good faith with AFSCME since shortly after I took office.”
The bill would allow either side to declare a bargaining impasse, at which time an arbitrator would be chosen. Once the arbitration hearing begins, a strike or lockout would be prohibited.
Rauner argues the process, known as interest arbitration, is misunderstood.
“Presented with the state’s and the unions’ proposals, arbitrators will be picking winners and losers by accepting either side’s proposal in its entirety,” the governor wrote in his veto message.
“Because they are unelected and unaccountable, arbitrators can decide to impose on the state the unions’ proposals without regard to the dire impact those proposals will have on our fiscal stability.”
AFSCME 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch disagreed.
“The bill does no more than offer state workers the option of the same fair arbitration procedures available for more than 30 years to police officers, firefighters and prison security employees in Illinois,” she said in a written statement. “Contrary to the governor’s claim, it does not mandate arbitration but offers it as a last recourse.”
State Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, lead sponsor in the House of SB 1229, said he expects an override effort.
The bill originally passed the House on a vote of 67 to 25 with three members voting present and 23 representatives not voting. It passed the Senate on a vote of 38 to 17, with no senators voting present and four not voting.
Override proponents would need 71 votes in the House and 36 Senate. The Senate has as many as 15 days for an override effort. Should a vote succeed there, the bill would be sent to the House, where representatives would again have as many 15 days to act.
Smiddy said he’s fairly confident he can reach 71 votes in the House if Democrats are all present, and he believes the Senate will override with ease.
“I absolutely plan on asking for an override vote the moment it comes out of the Senate,” he said Wednesday.
“I look at his bill not as helping the union, not as helping as the administration, but … as helping the individuals who rely on these (state) services on a daily basis,” he said.
Also Wednesday, the governor’s general counsel, Jason Barclay, sent an update on labor negotiations to state agency directors.
That document, a copy of which was obtained by the Illinois News Network, is somewhat akin to a government version of the bargaining update memos that AFSCME occasionally releases to its members.
And, like the AFSCME updates, it caused a stir.
For instance, Barclay wrote: “Contrary to incendiary comments in AFSCME’s newsletter that have been reported publicly, with or without a tolling agreement the governor will not lock out state employees.”
Barclay’s bolded and underlined the part reading “the governor will not lock out state employees.”
In a note to the Springfield political blog Capitol Fax, Lindall said the administration never made such a commitment and “to the contrary, has actively recruited retired state employees as strike breakers and failed to deny considering the mobilization of the National Guard to break a strike.”
Lindall added state employees don’t want to strike and “have never been forced to strike in more than 40 years of collective bargaining.”
Barclay also cited several examples of union proposals he said the state could not afford, including a call for an “11.5 percent pay increase of over $1.25 billion over four years.”
While he did not address that specific item, Lindall said Barclay’s examples included information “misleadingly presented.”