AFSCME turns to courts to delay Rauner contract, costing taxpayers millions

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
/ Labor
December 9, 2016

AFSCME turns to courts to delay Rauner contract, costing taxpayers millions

A judge in Cook County has issued a temporary restraining order halting a labor board decision that would allow the state to implement its contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The delay costs Illinois taxpayers over $1 million more each day in state-worker health coverage costs.

For each month the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ contract with the state is not in effect, Illinois is paying an additional $35 million to $40 million – in health coverage alone. Over the course of the 18 months the state has been without a contract, that’s $630 million to $720 million.

And with AFSCME leadership continuing to avoid facing reality, that amount will continue to grow, costing taxpayers dearly.

In November, the Illinois Labor Relations Board determined that AFSCME and the state are at impasse in negotiations for a contract for state workers, and the governor could impose his contract.

Now, union leadership is busy filing legal claims in courts all over the state in a desperate attempt to salvage expensive union demands, such as 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. A Cook County judge issued a temporary restraining order Dec. 9 against the board’s decision, which prevents the governor from imposing his contract.

AFSCME officials bemoan lack of transparency

Some of the union’s claims are ironic. In the Cook County case, AFSCME argued the board’s written decision shouldn’t be followed because AFSMCE didn’t see the board members vote on the decision.

Essentially, AFSCME – which opposes all labor reforms aimed at making negotiations more open and transparent to the public – is opposing the labor board’s decision because allegedly it wasn’t open and transparent enough.

Meanwhile, for years proponents of labor reform have called for labor negotiations to be more open – to no avail. The public should be able to hear and see what goes on during collective bargaining. People should be able to look at the contract proposals of both sides and judge for themselves which side is being unrealistic and which side has the best interests of residents and taxpayers in mind. To address this need, state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, introduced a bill four years in a row that would have ensured open contract negotiations when public-sector unions are involved.

But AFSCME and other government-worker unions lobby hard against such transparency. Instead, labor negotiations are conducted under a veil of secrecy. And for the most part, that benefits the unions. Unions can hide behind closed doors making unrealistic demands. And in this secrecy, past governors have kowtowed to AFSCME’s extremism, placing state taxpayers on the hook for the cost of a contract that further burdens the state’s faltering economy and overtaxed residents. And the taxpayers know nothing about it until it is a done deal.

Unfortunately, AFSCME’s actions in delaying the implementation of the contract also harm the state workers AFSCME claims to represent. As Christmas approaches, state workers are left without the stability of a contract in the New Year. And among other things, bringing the new contract to a halt means state workers are prevented from receiving the $1,000 bonuses the contract provides.

AFSCME does have one thing right: It’s time for transparency in labor dealings. But that transparency needs to start at the beginning, with the labor negotiations themselves.

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