AFSCME stall tactics are all political – and they’re costing Illinoisans millions

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
/ Labor
August 22, 2017

AFSCME stall tactics are all political – and they’re costing Illinoisans millions

Illinois’ largest government worker union is likely stalling contract negotiations in hopes of dealing with a new governor in 2019.

Illinois state workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have been without a contract for more than two years.

And there isn’t any hope of a new contract for months to come. After the Illinois Labor Relations Board declared an impasse in negotiations between AFSCME and the state – a decision which would allow the governor to begin implementing his last contract offer – AFSCME ran to state court to block the board’s decision and continue obstructing a new contract.

The appeal is now pending in the 4th District Appellate Court. In the meantime, taxpayers are taking the hit. The delay has already cost Illinoisans between $875 million and $1 billion in additional health care costs alone.

According to a representative in the 4th District Appellate Court’s clerk’s office, the parties will be filing written arguments in fall 2017. That means oral arguments won’t be heard in the case until at least December – if, according to the source, there are no extensions of time along the way.

Delayed implementation of a contract appears to have been AFSCME’s goal all along. Timing is key. If AFSCME can continue dragging out the negotiations timeline, there might not be a contract before the next election.

In other words, AFSCME’s likely been trying to wait out the current governor, in hopes of negotiating a contract in 2019 with a new governor who is more likely to cave to the union’s unreasonable demands.

AFSCME’s stall tactics have cost Illinoisans millions

Amid the legal wrangling is a very practical impact on the people of Illinois. The state estimates that for every month state workers are without a contract, it costs $35 million to $40 million in health care costs alone.

That’s the difference in cost between AFSCME’s demands for platinum-level insurance at little cost and the state’s more reasonable offer to continue covering 60 percent of state workers’ premiums.

In the 25 months since the last contract expired, that adds up to $875 million to $1 billion.

In a state already in fiscal chaos, AFSCME’s stall tactics have shown the union is not interested in the well-being of Illinois. AFSCME is only interested in political games to further its unreasonable demands.

AFSCME’s unreasonable demands stalled negotiations

Throughout contract negotiations, AFSCME made demands that were out of touch with the reality of Illinois’ fiscal condition: Payroll increases of up to 29 percent for state workers who are already the highest-paid in the nation when adjusted for cost of living. Platinum-level health insurance at rock-bottom prices. Overtime pay after working just 37.5 hours in a week.

AFSCME was so obstinate in pressing its demands that an administrative law judge with the state’s labor relations board wrote, “[T]he Union’s conduct calls into question its commitment to reaching an agreement through bargaining.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner, on the other hand, sought to bring union costs more in line with what taxpayers can afford. He asked for a temporary wage freeze. He asked state workers to contribute 40 percent toward health insurance costs, with the state continuing to pick up 60 percent, or approximately $11,600 per worker each year – a significant amount by any standard. And he asked for 40-hour workweeks before overtime pay kicks in.

At least 20 other unions reached contracts with cost-saving provisions. But AFSCME didn’t budge. So Rauner asked the state’s labor board to determine the negotiations were at impasse, or deadlocked. That would allow the governor to implement his last, best offer to the union.

When the governor asked for an expedited decision from the labor board, AFSCME balked and continued to stall. Union leadership was not interested in a timely impasse decision any more than it was interested in compromising on contract provisions.

AFSCME further stalled implementation of a contract

After the Illinois Labor Relations Board determined in November 2016 that the state and AFSCME were at impasse in negotiations, AFSCME continued to obstruct progress on a new contract. Rather than abiding by the board’s determination, AFSCME ran to state court to stop implementation of the contract.

Because both parties know that the issue will ultimately be appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, the governor requested that the court take the case without waiting on a decision in the lower court. That would provide a quicker resolution for both state workers and the people of Illinois.

But once again, AFSCME opposed an expedited process. And the court denied the governor’s request.

Now the case remains pending before the 4th District Appellate Court. With that court not likely to hear oral arguments in the case until at least December 2017, a decision cannot be expected until at least early 2018.

After that, there will be an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which itself could take many more months. In the meantime the state moves closer to the 2018 election – when AFSCME hopes to replace Rauner with a governor who will kowtow to the union’s demands.

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