One year ago, Governor Bruce Rauner walked out on negotiations for a new contract with state employees. Then and now, employees have made clear their willingness to return to the bargaining table and work constructively to find common ground, but the governor has rejected compromise at every turn.
Just as he has refused to work toward a solution to the state’s fiscal woes—harming citizens all across Illinois—he’s taking the same counterproductive "my way or the highway" approach with his own employees.
These dedicated public servants who protect children from abuse, monitor air and water quality, respond to natural disasters, care for aged veterans, and so much more, stood ready to negotiate, but instead Rauner asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board—which he appoints—to declare negotiations to be at "impasse."
When the Labor Board granted his request, it opened the door for Rauner to impose his own extreme agenda on state employees, including elimination of all safeguards against irresponsible subcontracting, a four-year wage and step freeze, and a 100% increase in employee health care premiums.
The wage freeze combined with such a steep health care cost hike would mean a $10,000 pay cut for the average state employee. That might not be much to Rauner, but it’s too much for the rest of us.
AFSCME has appealed the Labor Board’s decision and successfully secured a temporary stay that prevents the governor from imposing his terms for the time being. However, the stay could be lifted at any time.
Last week, in an effort to break the year-long stalemate, AFSCME took the unprecedented step of putting forward a new settlement framework that significantly modifies our previous positions on core economic issues. Employees would receive no base wage increase for four years and pay a modest increase in their health insurance costs.
Unfortunately, rather than welcoming these extremely reasonable terms and working to chart a new course to a fair settlement, the governor is still refusing to make any compromise whatsoever. Within hours of receiving the union’s letter regarding the new framework, he dismissed its terms as "superficial" and wildly exaggerated their potential cost to the state.
That’s why AFSCME members believe they have no choice but to consider going out on strike. They will soon begin to vote on whether to give their bargaining committee the authority to call a strike.
The Strike Authorization Vote will take place in each local union between January 30 and February 19. If a majority of union members vote "yes," that does not necessarily mean there will be a strike—as the committee will continue to do everything possible to reach a fair settlement. However, it does mean that if all such efforts fail, state employees will be prepared to go out on strike if the committee issues the call.
State employees do not want to strike. But the governor of our state created this crisis. He's trying to get his way by pitting Illinois citizens against each other. He wants to drive down the wages and benefits of working people and undermine the economic stability of communities all across Illinois.
Your involvement is critical. You can help by speaking up in support of state employees and by joining in any actions the union holds in your area. Do all you can to help build goodwill for state employees in your community.
Let’s stand together for fairness and a better future for everyone in Illinois.