AFSCME turns on the Illinois Labor Relations Board

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
December 14, 2016

AFSCME turns on the Illinois Labor Relations Board

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, desperate to avoid the implementation of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s contract offer, filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Labor Relations Board, claiming the board violated the Open Meetings Act in reaching its decision that AFSCME and the state are at impasse in contract negotiations. The labor board met Dec. 13 and reissued the decision it announced at its meeting Nov. 15 and in writing Dec. 5 – that the state and AFSCME are at impasse.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees – the state’s largest government-worker union – was in negotiations for a new contract for state workers for months, including 24 negotiating sessions for a total of 67 days. When the Illinois Labor Relations Board declared on Nov. 15 that there is an impasse in the negotiations, it was a major win for Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois taxpayers.

But after the labor board issued its decision in writing on Dec. 5, AFSCME lashed out against the board itself, claiming that the labor board did not follow proper protocols in issuing its written decision. On Dec. 13, the board reissued its previous impasse decision – meaning the board will have stated three times in the last month that AFSCME and the state are at impasse.

AFSCME’s warpath: First, AFSCME sued the state in St. Clair County Circuit Court

The board’s declaration in November meant the governor would be able to implement his last, best offer to the union, which would save taxpayers millions.

But rather than accept the governor’s reasonable offer, AFSCME, whose leaders had demanded provisions that would cost the state an additional $3 billion in increased wages and benefits, ran to court to continue obstructing progress on a contract for state workers.

First, AFSCME filed a lawsuit in union-friendly St. Clair County against the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, alleging breach of the tolling agreement – the agreement the parties signed promising to negotiate for a contract until impasse is reached. That agreement became null and void once the labor board declared the impasse. But that didn’t stop AFSCME from arguing for a temporary restraining order, or TRO, to rescind any changes to the expired contract and return to the status quo before the board’s impasse decision. The union-friendly judge complied. AFSCME also sought immediate review of the labor board’s decision in the First District Appellate Court.

The lawsuit against the labor board

AFSCME then filed a lawsuit against the labor board itself, alleging that the board’s Dec. 5 written decision violated the Open Meetings Act. The union claims that alleged differences between the written decision and the discussions at the Nov. 15 meeting suggest that action was taken outside of the Nov. 15 meeting. The union sought another TRO, this time from the Circuit Court of Cook County, declaring the board’s decision null and void.

The Illinois attorney general’s office argued on behalf of the board in the TRO proceedings in Cook County Circuit Court. That office is headed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, a longtime Rauner rival. Lisa Madigan’s election committee has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from AFSCME over the years, and her union sympathies call into question the adequacy of her office’s representation of the labor board against AFSCME’s attacks.

The attorney general’s office’s arguments focused only on procedural matters and never countered AFSCME’s substantive claims. Lawyers from the attorney general’s office argued that a Cook County Circuit Court-issued TRO was unnecessary because the St. Clair County Circuit Court’s TRO was already in place and the labor board would simply re-vote on the written decision at an upcoming open meeting. The attorney general’s office also argued that it would be more appropriate for AFSCME to seek a stay in the Appellate Court where AFSCME is already seeking review of the labor board’s decision, instead of complicating matters with an entirely separate lawsuit.

The attorney general’s office did not take issue with the factual assertions in AFSCME’s complaint, nor did it make arguments that the labor board did not violate the Open Meetings Act in the TRO hearing. Lawyers from the attorney general’s office failed to explain or provide evidence that extensive discussions took place among the labor board members in an open meeting, during the hearing on Nov. 15 – discussion reflected in the labor board’s ultimate written decision. The attorney general’s office also failed to explain that none of the inconsistencies AFSCME alleges between the decision announced at the open meeting and the final written decision would have changed the ultimate result of that decision. The labor board determined – unanimously and in the open meeting – that the parties are at impasse.

Unfortunately, the Cook County judge granted AFSCME’s request for the TRO against the labor board and suspended the enforcement of the labor board’s written decision. This meant Rauner’s offer could not be implemented, and the status of the negotiations reverted back to where it was before the labor board declared an impasse – at least until the labor board had another open meeting on Dec. 13 to adopt the Dec. 5 written decision. The labor board’s reissuance of its impasse decision should moot this particular AFSCME lawsuit, but the delay in implementing the contract could still cost the taxpayers of Illinois millions.

Delays cost taxpayers $35 million to $40 million per month

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.

Illinois state workers already are the highest-paid state workers in the nation when adjusted for cost of living. When the most recent AFSCME contract expired in 2015, the median AFSCME salary was $63,660 – compared with just under $32,000 for an Illinois worker in the private sector. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median income for an individual AFSCME worker is higher than the median income for an entire Illinois household in the private sector (just over $60,400 in 2015).

Most AFSCME employees also receive free health insurance at retirement, simply by working 20 or more years. This benefit alone costs taxpayers $200,000 to $500,000 per employee. In addition, state retirees with 30 years or more service on average receive $1.6 million in pension benefits, in addition to Social Security.

But that isn’t enough for AFSCME. The union wants a 37.5-hour workweek and wage increases of 11.5 to 29 percent by 2019, which, combined with other benefit increases the union is demanding, would cost taxpayers an additional $3 billion.

And the union’s multiple lawsuits demonstrate it is doing everything it can to salvage its expensive demands – even if that means further burdening the state’s taxpayers.

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