Governor asks to fast-track AFSCME impasse decision

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
June 15, 2016

Governor asks to fast-track AFSCME impasse decision

The governor’s office has asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to allow the impasse proceedings between the state and AFSCME to go straight to the five-member labor board instead of first waiting for a decision from the administrative law judge.

A new development in the impasse proceeding between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees may set things on an expedited path. On June 13, the governor’s office confirmed that it has asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to allow the proceedings to go straight to the five-member labor board instead of waiting for a decision from the administrative law judge on the potential impasse between the parties.

The administration claims that a quicker resolution of the impasse proceedings could save the state $35 million to $40 million a month.

Contract negotiations between AFSCME, the state’s largest government-worker union, and the state came to a halt in January, when AFSCME’s negotiator left the meeting stating, “I have nothing else to say and am not interested in hearing what you have to say at this point – carry that message back to your principals.”

Rauner then asked the state’s labor board to determine whether the two parties are at an impasse, or stalemate.

An agreement between the administration and AFSCME provides that if contract negotiations reach a stalemate, either the state or AFSCME can go to the labor board and ask the board to declare an impasse. If the board determines that an impasse exists, the governor can implement his last contract offer to AFSCME. AFSCME, in turn, could strike. However, if the labor board concludes that the parties are not at impasse, AFSCME and the state have to return to the negotiating table.

Typically, two opposing parties will appear before an administrative law judge, or ALJ, who hears testimony and arguments related to the impasse claims. The ALJ then issues an opinion that the parties can “appeal” to the state labor board. Because that appeal is certain to follow in this case, the state is asking to bypass the ALJ’s decision and go straight to the labor board, to save time.

The request is understandable. The impasse proceedings have dragged on for weeks. While the proceedings were originally scheduled from April 25 until May 26, AFSCME ended up utilizing an extra two weeks – until June 9 – for continued testimony of its witnesses. A decision from the ALJ is not expected until after July 13, when the parties file post-hearing written arguments. Once that decision issues, the losing party can appeal to the labor board. From there, the parties can appeal to the state courts – meaning resolution of the state’s impasse claim could be months away.

At the crux of the stalemate are AFSCME’s unreasonable demands – demands that would cost taxpayers an additional $3 billion in salary and benefit increases. Despite the state’s financial crisis, AFSCME is continuing to demand wage increases of 11.5 to 29 percent by 2019, platinum-level health insurance at little to no cost to workers, and a workweek that includes overtime for workers after just 37.5 hours.

At least 18 other unions have already ratified contracts that include several of the core provisions AFSCME has rejected. For example, on May 17 the Illinois Federation of Teachers, representing educators at the Illinois School for the Deaf, ratified a collective bargaining agreement that includes provisions that will help address the state’s ongoing financial crisis, including a four-year temporary wage freeze, implementation of merit pay for conscientious workers, and changes to the state-provided health insurance program that allows employees to keep their current premiums, maintain their current coverage, or mix and match to best suit their needs.

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.

AFSCME has not only rejected similar proposals, but now it stands opposed to the state’s commonsense request to expedite the impasse proceedings and move toward a quicker resolution. There is no doubt that the impasse proceedings will ultimately be appealed to the labor board. It would provide a quicker resolution for the state’s taxpayers – and even AFSCME’s employees – for the board to issue a decision sooner rather than later.

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