AFSCME leaders rejected offer of bereavement leave, performance bonuses

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
October 27, 2016

AFSCME leaders rejected offer of bereavement leave, performance bonuses

AFSCME and Gov. Bruce Rauner are deadlocked in negotiations for a new contract for Illinois state workers. AFSCME claims to advocate for its members — but union leadership has turned its back on contract provisions that would benefit state employees and their families.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – the state’s largest government-worker union – claims to have the best interests of state workers in mind.

But the union has repeatedly rejected provisions that would benefit state workers, such as time off to mourn the loss of a loved one and the ability to earn additional pay based on hard work and performance.

AFSCME and Gov. Bruce Rauner have been deadlocked for months in negotiations over a new contract for state workers. On Nov. 15, the Illinois Labor Relations Board will meet and consider whether the two sides have reached impasse – and if so, Rauner will be able to implement his last and best offer. AFSCME, in turn, could strike.

Why the deadlock? What is AFSCME fighting so hard to obtain? Salary increases of up to 29 percent, for one. Platinum-level health care benefits at little cost to state workers – a level of coverage that is not even available to regular Illinoisans on the state’s insurance exchange, let alone at a rock-bottom price. And a 37.5-hour workweek before overtime kicks in – to name just a few.

Undoubtedly, these are lavish perks that any state employee working under the AFSCME contract would welcome. But of course, these concessions would also further tank the state’s failing economy. It is estimated that AFSCME’s demands would cost taxpayers $3 billion in additional salary and benefit increases. That is a price tag Illinoisans simply cannot afford – a fact AFSCME has completely disregarded.

But the union also has turned its back on more reasonable benefits, to the detriment of the state workers the union claims to represent.

Take bereavement pay. As of 2012, the vast majority of workers in the private sector – 76 percent – were granted “funeral leave” benefits. In most respects, AFSCME’s past contracts have granted state employees more perks than are available in the private sector. But not so with bereavement pay. Under the expired contract, if an AFSCME member needs time off because he or she lost a child, that worker has to take vacation or personal days, or some other leave of absence.

Rauner added bereavement leave to the contract in his proposal to AFSCME. If a state worker’s son, daughter, stepson or stepdaughter dies, that worker would be entitled to three days’ bereavement leave, with pay, in addition to any other time off the employee would like to utilize. Rauner also left all of the other 15-plus leaves of absence in place in the contract.

But AFSCME rejected Rauner’s offer.

Another example: merit pay. Also referred to as performance pay, merit pay rewards good employees with bonuses above and beyond normal salary.

Under the expired contract, all employees receive yearly salary increases regardless of their performance. But that construct provides disincentives to outstanding performance and drives down productivity. What’s more, it is patently unfair to the state employees who outperform their peers.

The state already instituted a merit pay system for Illinois Lottery employees, and it has proved to be fair and productive, according to a report in The Northwest Indiana Times. Workers receive bonuses for meeting sales targets and other goals.

Since fiscal year 2015, the state has paid more than $631,000 in bonuses, with the majority of eligible Illinois Lottery employees receiving this extra pay. Bonuses averaged about $5,243 in fiscal year 2015, and $5,791 in fiscal year 2016.

Neveda Witherspoon, a 15-year state employee, told The Northwest Indiana Times, “I think it’s motivational.” Witherspoon added, “It definitely helps knowing that at the end of this quarter you might get something.”

Rauner’s last offer to AFSCME included incentive bonuses for the more than 35,000 employees covered under the contract. The state says employees would be eligible for merit pay by meeting simple, objective standards, such as not having unauthorized absences or violating pre-established work rules.

Sounds simple enough. Show up to work, do a good job, get paid more.

But AFSCME rejected merit pay, and it rejected the state’s invitation to help shape the guidelines for instituting a merit pay system. The union stated during negotiations it was “not interested in bonuses.” The state asked AFSCME to give it something to work off of rather that just rejecting merit pay outright; but AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch refused.

AFSCME’s message should ring loud and clear with the dedicated state workers who deserve to be compensated for their good work. In no way does AFSCME want compensation tied to performance. Even if that is fair and beneficial to its members.

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