AFSCME seeks to silence Illinois voters on government contracts

AFSCME seeks to silence Illinois voters on government contracts

If this bill becomes law, unions can stonewall the governor and other reformers in contract negotiations.

Not content to simply oppose legislation that would bring more democracy to bargaining with government unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees also moved to avert any chance of tough negotiations with Gov. Bruce Rauner with a bill that would ban union strikes and lockouts in Illinois. That bill will head to the governor’s desk after passing the Illinois Senate on May 30.

The AFSCME bill would allow unions to unilaterally strip negotiating ability from public employers, freeze all existing benefits in place – including ongoing raises – and give unelected arbitrators the ability to bind taxpayers through new contracts.

The only way local elected representatives could overturn the arbitrator’s decisions is with a three-fifths majority vote from the public employer’s governing body (for state workers, this means the Illinois House of Representative and Senate), making these unelected bureaucrats more powerful than a simple majority of Illinoisans’ elected representatives.

To expedite the process to allow introduction on May 29 and a vote over the weekend, bill sponsors simply amended existing legislation.

In addition, the legislation is transparently political, applying only to “collective bargaining agreements, expiring on or after June 30, 2015 but on or before June 30, 2019.” In other words it would only apply during Rauner’s tenure and shortly thereafter.

The amended legislation would require all new collective bargaining agreements between the state and public employees to be decided by a third party if they are not finalized by the time they expire.

The process would work like this:

If state employees, such as those represented by AFSCME, and the government cannot come to an agreement on a new contract within 30 days of the old contract’s expiration, the two parties would enter into a sort of marriage counseling called mediation. The role of the mediator would be to bring both sides together on any outstanding issues.

If after 30 days the mediation is unsuccessful and there are still outstanding issues, one party can unilaterally say negotiations are at an impasse and force the other to enter arbitration.

Under impasse arbitration, an unelected arbitrator will write a contract binding taxpayers. The only way for these contracts to be overruled is by a supermajority of elected representatives for the jurisdiction overseeing the contract.

Finally, during this entire time the provisions of the previous contract are in full force. Neither party can make a change during this time without the consent of the other. These are known as “evergreen clauses” and give one party the ability to stonewall and keep a beneficial contract in place if they think they will face a difficult negotiator on the other side.

The process of impasse arbitration is generally confined to public safety workers because they give up the ability to strike and the government cannot prevent them from working (this is what’s known as a lockout). However, the AFSCME bill would apply these provisions to all state employees falling under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.

If this bill becomes law, unions can stonewall the governor and other reformers in order to keep their lavish benefits. And even after their contracts expire, they don’t need to worry about benefits being immediately cut, thanks to the evergreen clauses.

However, even though the bill has passed through both chambers of the General Assembly, it is not law. The bill awaits the governor’s signature, and as The State Journal-Register reported, “Even supporters of the bill said they expect the Republican governor will veto it. The administration did not directly answer a question about whether the governor will veto the bill.”

The bill did not pass with enough support to override the potential veto.

As Rich Miller reported at Capitol Fax, “Two Democrats, Jack Franks and Andre Thapedi, took a walk and didn’t vote,” and that “If those two stay off the legislation on an override, it’s going to be really difficult to pass it.” The political blog also noted several Republicans who did not vote.

Whether lawmakers truly wanted to pass a transparently political check on the state’s ability to negotiate government-union contracts or if the votes were simply grandstanding remains to be seen.

Two things are for sure: First, AFSCME is showing it is afraid of straight contract negotiations with Rauner, even with their ability to strike. Second, this summer’s contract negotiations will be heated, to say the least.

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