SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (PAI) — Just after the first anniversary of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s walkout from bargaining with his state’s largest public workers’ union, that union, AFSCME District Council 31, is trying to restart bargaining with a new contract proposal.
The proposal, which Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch unveiled on Jan. 9, is based on an arbitrator’s award in Rauner’s negotiations with Federation of Police Lodge 41, which represents state troopers. Like his plan, it includes a four-year wage freeze.
But whether AFSCME will get the right wing former hedge fund magnate back to the table is up in the air. Rauner is battling the union in state courts over his declared “impasse” in the talks, but court orders delayed that pending a full-scale trial. And he’s trying to fine the union $2 million for bargaining costs. AFSCME represents 46,000 state workers.
And Rauner also now has enough minority Republicans in the Democratic-run state House to uphold his vetoes, giving him added strength in his anti-worker war.
In addition, just before the old state legislature adjourned, the House upheld two Rauner vetoes, the St. Louis Labor Tribune reported. One, where the override lost by one vote, told the state Labor Department to set union wages as prevailing wages for publicly paid construction if 30 percent of construction workers in the wage area are unionized. The Operating Engineers and the Laborers pushed it. The other vetoed bill made voter registration easier.
The Rauner war against AFSCME has been going on ever since he won the governor’s chair in 2014. He vowed then to break the union, in so many words, and even went so far as to deprive Illinois of a state budget – cutting vital services as a result – because the Democratic-run legislature wouldn’t yield to his anti-union demands.
Those Rauner demands, which range from making Illinois a “right to work” state on upwards, are part of a nationwide drive by the Right and its political puppets, almost all of them Republicans, to destroy public workers and their unions.
In the conflict between Rauner and Lodge 41, the arbitrator went for Rauner’s 4-year wage freeze but rejected his bid to impose hugely higher health care costs on FOP members. Instead, the arbitrator adopted the lodge’s health care proposals, the Labor Tribune reported.
In his conflict with AFSCME, Rauner wants the wage freeze, the high health care costs for members and unlimited contracting out of union jobs. Rauner got his own appointed state labor board to declare an “impasse” in the AFSCME talks late last year, even after an arbitrator there sided with AFSCME. In mid-December, other Illinois unions signed a solidarity letter backing AFSCME. The circuit court in Sangamon County – Springfield, the state capitol – put the impasse ruling on hold with its order against Rauner.
In its proposal, AFSCME accepted the four-year pay freeze, but proposed raises in fiscal 2018 and 2019 to help lower-paid workers doing identical jobs with higher-paid colleagues from falling farther behind. It also proposed health care premium hikes of 2.5 percent in the pact’s first year and 3 percent in each following year.
“We hope this unprecedented action by the AFSCME bargaining committee will serve as an impetus for the Rauner administration to return to the bargaining table,” Lynch said. “The need is clear for a sincere effort to reach a fair settlement…allowing state employees to continue to do the work to which they are deeply committed and which is so vital to” Illinoisans.
Carl Green of the St. Louis Labor Tribune contributed material for this story.