Cullerton may hold key to fate of ‘no-strike’ bill
By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — Some of the biggest news from the Capitol this week may be about what didn’t happen: an expected attempt by the Senate to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill 1229.
While the Senate on Monday noted receipt of Rauner’s July 29 veto and later scheduled it for override consideration, it did not act.
Democratic staff now say the Senate has through Aug. 19 — currently the next scheduled attendance day for the Senate — to take up an override motion.
The measure would enable mandatory arbitration should either the state or its unionized employees declare a bargaining impasse in their continuing contract talks.
Once the binding arbitration hearing begins, a strike or lockout would be prohibited. In the end, an arbitrator would pick either the state’s or the union’s final offer.
Democrats, who have supported the bill, say the measure is about avoiding a work stoppage and making taxpayer funded services available to the citizens of Illinois.
“It isn’t about being on the side of organized labor and it isn’t about being on the side of the administration,” said Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, the primary House sponsor. “It is about being on the side of the citizens of Illinois.”
Republicans strongly oppose the measure, saying it cuts the state’s chief executive, Rauner, out of the bargaining and decision-making processes and puts a spending decision worth billions of dollars in the hands of an unelected arbitrator who is not accountable to the public.
Rauner is adamantly opposed to the bill. In a Wednesday news conference, he called it:
— “A direct frontal assault on the taxpayers of Illinois.”
— “A declaration of war against the taxpayers of Illinois.”
— “The worst bill I’ve heard about in Illinois.”
He and fellow Republicans contend the bill is a power-grab by organized labor, specifically the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents about 35,000 state employees.
Rauner also suggests the bill might be aimed directly at him, perhaps because he doesn’t take AFSCME campaign money.
AFSCME continues to advocate for the bill and argues that Rauner — despite his recent vows to not lock out state employees — wants to force a strike and shut down the government so he can can revamp state employee contracts.
The union contends that revamp would come at great expense to state workers in terms of pay, insurance and working conditions.
In a posting to its website Wednesday, AFSCME said the bill “would provide state employees with the option of utilizing the same kind of arbitration procedures that have been available to police officers, firefighters, and other public safety employees in Illinois for more than 30 years.”
The union argues the governor is ratcheting up the rhetoric, even “spreading lies,” and wonders “why such a sensible approach would strike such terror in the heart of the governor—and you don’t have to think hard to come up with the answer: The Administration’s ferocious animosity to the legislation is a plain indication that Rauner remains firmly committed to forcing a strike.”
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, appears ready to call an override vote — should he receive the bill from the Senate, where such an effort must start in this case.
Asked in his own news conference this week whether there was adequate support for an override, the speaker said, “The answer is yes.”
Would he call the vote?
“Why wouldn’t I call it?” he answered.
Had the speaker asked the Senate to delay a vote so he could be sure to have all House Democrats present for a House vote that would follow?
“No,” he said.
When it cleared the General Assembly this spring, Senate Bill 1229 received 67 votes in the House and 38 in the Senate.
Senate Democrats could have two votes drop off and still achieve override, whereas House Democrats would have to add four additional votes to reach the minimum for an override in that chamber.
Senate President John Cullerton, who voted in favor of the bill when it was called, didn’t initiate an override vote this past week because he is looking further into the matter, according to his staff.
Cullerton “will take some time to sit down with stakeholders on both sides of the debate before determining next steps,” a Cullerton spokeswoman said in an email.
Cullerton’s staff did not respond to an Illinois News Network request for an interview with the senate president, but Cullerton told the State Journal-Register:
“We certainly don’t want to have a strike, and we don’t want to have a lockout, and that’s what the bill prohibits. At the same time, I want the governor to be able to negotiate a fair contract. I think there is misunderstanding of what the status is now and what the effect of the bill is.”
The state’s contracts with union-represented employees expired July 1, but the Rauner administration and AFSCME have twice agreed to “tolling agreements” that now extend to Sept. 30, the date both sides will stay at the bargaining table without threat of strike or lockout.
Rauner this week said he wouldn’t lock the doors to state employees: “I have absolutely no interest in that, and I’ve said it publicly and right here and I’ll put it in writing: No lockout. I have no interest in that whatsoever.”
The governor says his administration has and will continue to negotiate in good faith.
AFSCME appears to strongly disagree and maintains that if not by lockout, Rauner is trying to crush the union by forcing a strike.