AFSCME impasse hearings: Understanding the timeline, process and potential outcomes

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
April 26, 2016

AFSCME impasse hearings: Understanding the timeline, process and potential outcomes

Given AFSCME’s and the Rauner administration’s disagreement on core contract issues – such as wage freezes and merit pay – and the likely appeal of any impasse decision reached by the administrative law judge, a final determination on whether AFSCME and the Rauner administration have reached impasse will probably not come until well into the summer – or beyond.

Illinois’ largest government-worker union has been without a contract since summer 2015. Negotiations have stalled, as officials from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees haven’t been willing to back down on demands for a contract that Gov. Bruce Rauner says will cost more than $3 billion. On April 25, impasse proceedings began between Rauner and AFSCME, to decide whether the parties have reached a stalemate in their negotiations. So what does this mean for regular Illinoisans, and will proceedings result in a contract?

The AFSCME stalemate

The contract stalemate between Rauner and AFSCME can be confusing. Negotiations have dragged on for months, with 67 days of meetings, 24 formal negotiating sessions, and over 300 different proposals.

Unlike the 17 other unions that have negotiated with the state and indeed, the majority of Illinoisans, AFSCME’s leadership seems to be in denial that the state is on the brink of financial ruin. Rather than seeking to ease the burden on state taxpayers by accepting a four-year wage freeze, AFSCME has demanded automatic, four-year raises that would increase payroll 21 percent by 2019. AFSCME has rejected the governor’s proposed 40-hour workweek, instead demanding that overtime kick in for workers after 37.5 hours. In addition, AFSCME has rejected the governor’s offer of bonus pay for employees with exceptional performance, as well as a $1,000 signing bonus per employee if the contract were ratified by Jan. 1, 2016.

Negotiations between the state and AFSCME came to a halt in January. At that time, AFSCME’s lead negotiator said: “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.” Thereafter, Rauner asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to determine that the parties have reached “impasse” under the state’s labor laws. Should the board agree, the governor could implement his last and best offer. AFSCME, in turn, could decide to strike. On the other hand, if the board concludes that the two sides have not reached impasse, negotiations will continue.

While the governor’s request for an impasse decision may sound like the situation is heading toward resolution, a final decision on impasse may be months away.

First step: Hearings before an administrative law judge

On April 25, an administrative law judge, or ALJ, began hearing arguments from both parties. Both sides will give opening arguments and present their claims. The governor is arguing that the two sides have reached impasse and cannot agree on any of the core issues. On the other hand, AFSCME is arguing that impasse has not been reached, and that the parties should continue negotiating.

This portion of the process itself will carry on for weeks. Hearings are scheduled nearly every day between now and May 26, according to the Illinois Labor Relations Board. At that time, the ALJ will schedule post-hearing briefs from the parties, which are like final written arguments. While the timetable will depend on the parties’ schedules, it could be four to eight weeks before the parties submit these final briefs. Thus, at the earliest, the parties will submit their briefs toward the end of June. No decision on impasse is possible before that time.

Next steps: The administrative law judge’s decision and subsequent appeals

Once the ALJ has reviewed the record and the parties’ final written arguments, the ALJ will issue a decision. That decision will be binding on the parties unless one party appeals to the five-member panel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board. But the appeals process does not end with the board; the party disputing the board’s ultimate decision can then appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, and then to the Illinois Supreme Court. Even if the state courts expedite the appeal, however, the appeals process would still add weeks or months to the impasse timeline.

With the parties disagreeing on core issues – such as wage freezes and merit pay – it is highly likely that the losing party will pursue the appeals process to its fullest. Of course, this means a final determination on whether AFSCME and the Rauner administration have reached impasse will not come until well into the summer – or beyond.

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