2016 is ending much the same way it began for Illinois taxpayers – with AFSCME costing the state millions of dollars as it stalls progress on a contract for state workers. We can expect more of the same in 2017, with union leadership doing all it can to thwart Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state’s labor board – including the possibility of a state worker strike.
On the labor front, 2016 is ending much the same way it began in Illinois – with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees obstructing progress toward a new contract for state workers.
In the meantime, taxpayers are on the hook for the costly effects of AFSCME’s stall tactics. For each month the AFSCME contract is not in effect, Illinois is paying an additional $35 million to $40 million in health coverage costs alone. Over the course of the 18 months the state has been without a contract, that’s $630 million to $720 million.
Throughout negotiations, Gov. Bruce Rauner attempted to bring union costs more in line with what Illinoisans can afford. But AFSCME refused to compromise, instead demanding wage increases of 11.5 to 29 percent by 2019, platinum-level health insurance at little cost to workers and a workweek with overtime for workers after just 37.5 hours. In total, AFSCME’s demands would cost the state an additional $3 billion in increased wages and benefits.
Taxpayers cannot afford that.
After the Illinois Labor Relations Board issued a decision in November declaring the parties at impasse, AFSCME took to the courts to prevent the governor from implementing his reasonable contract offer.
We can expect more of the same obstructionist behavior from AFSCME in 2017. And a first-ever AFSCME strike could be on the horizon.
Obstructionist tactics have been the theme of AFSCME’s “negotiating” strategy. According to an administrative law judge with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, AFSCME’s approach to negotiations was “atypical.” She added, “… the [u]nion’s conduct calls into question its commitment to reaching an agreement through bargaining.”
Negotiations between AFSCME and the state came to a halt in January, with AFSCME’s lead negotiator stating, “I have nothing else to say and am not interested in hearing what you have to say at this point – carry that message that back to your principals.”
More recently AFSCME’s rallying cry has been, “Don’t dictate, negotiate.” But AFSCME leadership conveniently ignores the facts.
First, it was AFSCME’s own costly demands that led to the stalemate between parties. AFSCME persisted in these demands despite the fact that Illinois state workers are already the highest-paid state workers in the nation when adjusted for cost of living. In fact, AFSCME worker salaries grew five times faster than Illinois workers’ earnings and twice the rate of inflation from 2005 to 2014.
Second, it certainly wasn’t Gov. Bruce Rauner’s negotiating team that left negotiations refusing to speak to the other side. It was AFSCME that had no interest in listening to the state’s negotiators.
Third, AFSCME now is actively thwarting the process it agreed to during negotiations. The parties committed to bargain in good faith, and if they disagreed on whether stalemate existed, they would submit the issue to the Illinois Labor Relations Board to determine whether the parties had reached impasse. But now that the board has declared the parties at impasse, AFSCME refuses to abide by the decision.
Not only has AFSCME initiated multiple lawsuits against the state to prevent implementation of the contract, it has even filed a case against the board itself. Each lawsuit has the same goal: preventing implementation of the contract.
What to expect in 2017
Nothing in AFSCME’s behavior hints that the union wants to arrive at a contract fair to both taxpayers and state employees. Instead, its actions demonstrate that the union is bent on continuing its obstructionist tactics into 2017.
It’s possible those tactics could lead to a state worker strike. And it’s certain that those tactics will continue to cost state taxpayers millions.
In a December newsletter to AFSCME members, the union repeated its common rhetoric: State employees will have to accept Rauner’s terms “or go out on strike.” Despite Illinois’ dire economic climate and steepest-in-the-nation population decline, AFSCME leadership is upset that the state hasn’t caved to its demands for raises and increased benefits.
Then AFSCME informed its members in bold:
So as 2016 began with failing AFSCME negotiations and a potential strike, 2017 will begin with failed AFSCME negotiations and a potential strike.
In the meantime, AFSCME’s actions cost state taxpayers $2 million each day the contract is not implemented. The union persists in its stall tactics in spite of Illinois’ precarious financial situation. The state currently has over $11 billion in unpaid bills. Illinois’ pension debt jumped to $130 billion in 2016 (up from $111 billion). And the state has the nation’s worst credit rating. What’s more, Illinois residents are leaving the state in droves. It doesn’t take an economist to understand that AFSCME’s demands are unreasonable in the current economic climate.
But AFSCME isn’t interested in negotiating. It is only interested in perpetuating its power play against state taxpayers in its relentless pursuit of unrealistic contract demands.