AFSCME’s actions show union unwilling to negotiate contract taxpayers can afford

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
/ Labor
April 28, 2016

AFSCME’s actions show union unwilling to negotiate contract taxpayers can afford

AFSCME’s push for HB 580, which would allow a panel of unelected arbitrators to draft a binding contract between the state and the union, is the latest power play in AFSCME’s long and uncompromising battle for pay hikes and benefits that could cost Illinois taxpayers more than $3 billion.

Illinois’ largest government-worker union – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – continues to bully state taxpayers to get contract provisions that could cost the state more than $3 billion.

The union is backing House Bill 580, which, if enacted, could result in the state being forced into an arbitration procedure that binds taxpayers to paying for an agreement written by an unelected, unaccountable panel of arbitrators. The bill has already passed the Illinois House and Senate, and Gov. Bruce Rauner has until May 17 to veto the bill. The bill would then go back to the House and Senate for a potential legislative override of that veto.

HB 580 is the reincarnation of Senate Bill 1229, which Senate Democrats introduced in February 2015. Like HB 580, AFSCME-backed SB 1229 would have stripped the state of its bargaining power by allowing a panel of unelected arbitrators to step in and draft a binding contract between the state and AFSCME. The measure was vetoed by Rauner in July 2015, and the General Assembly failed to override that veto, but AFSCME’s push for that bill revealed from the beginning that the union would do whatever it took – to the detriment of Illinois taxpayers – to force the state to meet its demands.

While AFSCME has been busy trying to legislatively undermine the governor and Illinois taxpayers, at least 17 other unions have struck contract agreements with the state that would bring labor costs more in line with what taxpayers can afford. For example, the Teamsters reached an agreement with the state in August 2015. That agreement includes a four-year wage freeze, continuation of a 40-hour workweek, and the implementation of a bonus system for employees meeting or exceeding expectations.

By contrast, AFSCME has persisted in demanding guaranteed four-year wage increases, platinum-level health insurance coverage at little to no cost to union members, and a workweek that includes overtime for workers after 37.5 hours. The union has spurned the governor’s offer of bonus pay for employees with exceptional performance, as well as a $1,000 signing bonus per employee if the contract were ratified by Jan. 1, 2016.

AFSCME’s failure to compromise has caused negotiations to languish. After 67 days of meetings, 24 formal negotiating sessions, and over 300 different proposals, the governor requested in January 2016 that the Illinois Labor Relations Board declare an impasse, or stalemate, in negotiations. That request led to impasse hearings that began April 25, 2016.

The union’s demands are particularly unreasonable when compared with the earnings of the state’s private-sector workers. Between 2005 and 2014, AFSCME’s salaries rose five times faster than Illinois workers’ median earnings and two times faster than inflation.

At a potential cost of more than $3 billion, the pay hikes and benefits AFSCME demands would require even more money from taxpayers who have already footed the bill for government salary increases that vastly outpace their own and would further harm the already-faltering Illinois economy.

AFSCME’s leadership seems to be in denial that the state is on the brink of financial ruin – and the union’s failure to compromise will only deepen the crisis.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!