State: Union blasts governor’s merit pay offers

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner has implemented a merit-raise system for non-union employees, as well as roughly 5,000 workers represented by smaller state-government unions, according to a memo from his lead attorney.

The Republican governor is also proposing many points of the same to the state’s largest employee union — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Councl 31 — which has been without a contract even after a year of negotiations.

AFSCME, which represents about 35,000 state employees, was not impressed.

In memo to agency chiefs made public Thursday, the governor’s general counsel, Jason Barclay, outlined the merit plan, which includes the use of bonus-money pools.

For example, the state would set aside an amount equal to 2 percent of total unionized payroll.

A quarter of the money would go to employees who qualify by missing no more than seven work days and who don’t have any “work policy violations” on their records for a given fiscal year.

Three-quarters of that bonus pool money would go to employees who meet standards for performance as set by their state agencies, with the setting of those standards to include consultation between the state and the union.

Barclay wrote the larger pool amount would divided among no less than 25 of the unionized employees, provided those employees had also met the attendance and no-violation standards.

The Rauner administration proposal also includes other features, such as a “gainsharing program,” which would reward employees who achieve savings for the state. The administration says every state employee will be eligible and have the opportunity to receive “significant portions of taxpayer gains.”

It also offers a one-time, non-pensionable signing and attendance bonus of $1,000 for unionized employees who have missed fewer than 5 percent of their assigned work days between the effective date of a new agreement and June 30 of this year.

In a statement published on the Capitol Fax web blog, AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall condemned the proposal.

“The Rauner administration’s latest scheme would allow the governor’s political appointees (agency directors) to reward chosen employees based on their own subjective criteria,” Lindall said.

Lindall said the plan would “open the door to cronyism and favoritism that AFSCME believes should be kept out of government entirely. It’s why so-called ‘merit pay’ plans are better termed ‘political pay’ and have been rejected by so many employers in public service.”

Lindall called the proposal “downright discriminatory toward working parents and anyone who gets sick or injured.”

He argued the plan would “punish a cancer patient, a heart attack or stroke victim, someone who suffered a debilitating accident or the parent of a child with a serious illness.”

Mike Schrimpf, the governor’s communications chief, fired back, saying AFSCME was mischaracterizing the plan and trying to stir fear among its members.

“The governor’s merit pay proposal rewards employees who miss fewer than a designated number of ‘assigned work days’ in a year,” Schrimpf wrote. “An assigned work day does not include a day for which the employee has received advanced approval to be absent, such as approved vacation time or an approved leave of absence, including FMLA leave.”

“Therefore, contrary to AFSCME’s claims, an employee would not be disqualified from earning the bonus for absences related to an approved FMLA leave,” he wrote.

Schrimpf argued the governor made a reasonable proposal intended to generate discussion only to be met with “false and misleading information.”

State Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, a former employee of the state prison system and union member, said AFSCME opposes Rauner’s merit pay proposal because unions have seen such systems used to pick political favorites for raises or deny them for people seen as unfriendly toward the administration.

Smiddy said he thinks the two sides ought to seek mediation, informal or formal, because any trust or goodwill among the sides might be all used up — if it ever existed.

“I don’t really believe the governor wants to, in good faith, get a contract,” Smiddy said. Instead, he said, the governor wants to wear the union down and accept “his way or the highway.”

Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, had a decidedly different take.
Sandack said the governor has accurately assessed Illinois’ horrid financial condition and is doing what he can to at least make sure many have chances to increase their incomes.

Rauner, he said, is tasked “with trying to find some morsel of savings in this upside-down, discombobulated state world.”

Were Rauner bent on destroying the unions, he wouldn’t have three times agreed to tolling agreements intended to keep the two sides at the table and employees working without threat of strike or lockout, Sandack said.

“I guess you can continue to toe that really tired union line or you can say we have to work differently because resources are really exceptionally scarce, and we’ve got to figure out ways to do more with less,” Sandack said.

“Incentivizing people to go beyond (the minimum) has always been a tried and true way of getting people to do more and reward them accordingly, and I really don’t think that’s a bad thing,” he said.

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