Illinois state workers win against Rauner’s cuts, temporarily

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (PAI) — An Illinois Labor Relations Board ruling that right wing GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner reached an “impasse” on one issue in his bargaining with the union that represents most state workers – and thus could implement his “final offer” that features a 4-year pay freeze, no step increases, a 100 percent hike in worker health care premiums and unlimited subcontracting – forced the workers into street protests statewide in mid-November.

But after the Nov. 17 demonstrations in Galesburg, Springfield, Chicago and elsewhere, the Illinois state workers got at least a temporary reprieve in court. Their union, AFSCME District Council 31, sought and won a temporary restraining order on Dec. 6 from a local circuit court against Rauner’s plan to impose his scheme, pending a full hearing on it in five weeks.

The legal back-and-forth is part of the governor’s continuing effort to break the union, which represents 48,000 state workers. He even went so far as to leave the state without a budget for an entire year – forcing shutdowns of many services – because the predominantly Democratic state legislature defeated his anti-worker demands.

“Although temporary, this order sends a message to Gov. Rauner that he is not above the law,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “Instead of sparking further conflict in the courts and at state worksites, Gov. Rauner should return to bargaining and work with us to find common ground,” she added. The union has decided not to strike.

Rauner’s reps walked away from bargaining in January 2016, an AFSCME timeline adds.

“The Rauner-appointed Labor Board’s impasse decision threw out the recommendations of the administrative law judge who presided over two months of hearings in the case. The ALJ had found no impasse on major issues such as wages and health care, and had said Rauner should be ordered to return to bargaining,” the union notes.

But what Rauner really wants is to break AFSCME and take total control, according to an internal Rauner administration document leaked to Council 31. It’s part of a concerted effort by corporate interests and right-wing Republicans to smash public employee unions nationwide.

The document shows Rauner, a former hedge fund executive whose net worth is estimated by many to be in the hundreds of millions, set up a “Labor and Employment Advisory Division” within the state government. Staffed by attorneys, the division’s goals are to “gain and maintain control over the workforce,” and “mitigate external interference” – the union – “with the employer-employee relationship.”

One key task is to “reduce unionization among managers and supervisors” through lawsuits “to remove those who were unlawfully unionized.” Another is to “restore management’s rights to direct daily operations,” including “reinvigorated employee discipline tools to ensure discipline is not thrown out by arbitrators and the courts.”

The division also would set up so-called “merit pay” systems and “renegotiate cumbersome work rules to compete with less-costly” private firms, the memo says.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.