Illinois Democrats revive union arbitration legislation that would cut Rauner out of contract negotiations

Illinois Democrats revive union arbitration legislation that would cut Rauner out of contract negotiations

Through House Bill 580, Democrats in the General Assembly take a second run at removing Gov. Bruce Rauner from contract negotiations with AFSCME.

Senate Bill 1229, which would have allowed Illinois’ biggest government-worker union to bypass Gov. Bruce Rauner in contract negotiations, died in September 2015.

But on Feb. 9 a reincarnation of the proposal emerged in House Bill 580. It is expected to move quickly, with a vote in the Illinois House of Representatives coming as early as the week of Feb. 15. A vote in the Illinois Senate will likely follow soon after.

HB 580 contains the exact same wording as SB 1229, which would have removed the governor from the negotiating table in talks to determine future pay and benefits for members.

It’s bad policy first and foremost, but the bill is also explicitly political, as it would apply only to “collective bargaining agreements, expiring on or after June 30, 2015 but on or before June 30, 2019.” In other words, it would only apply during Rauner’s tenure and would sunset shortly thereafter.

HB 580 adds another layer to the complexity of the stalemate between the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Rauner. Because of the standstill in negotiations, Rauner appealed the matter to the Illinois Labor Relations Board in January, asking for a judgment as to whether the current state of affairs constitutes an impasse. The board’s ruling will go one of two ways: The board could declare that no impasse exists, in which case the governor and the union would have to resume negotiations; or it could rule that an impasse exists, meaning the governor would present the union with his last, best offer – AFSCME would either accept this offer or prepare to strike.

For months prior to the breakdown in negotiations, the governor and AFSCME officials had been unable to reach a contract agreement. According to a 2015 memo from the governor’s office, AFSCME’s leaders were pushing for four-year raises ranging from 11.5 to 29 percent, a 37.5-hour workweek and five weeks of vacation.

AFSCME officials claim that HB 580 is a major concession on the union’s part, as it would forego its ability to strike under the legislation. But the sacrifice is by no means altruistic. First, AFSCME has no strike fund. That means union members would take a financial hit were they to strike – estimated at $8,000 per month for each worker in lost pay, increased health-insurance contributions and state-pension contributions.

Second, the union may be able to get a better deal under the arbitrators selected under HB 580 than a strike could achieve. Under HB 580, if either side declares an impasse, the arbitrators choose either the union’s proposal or the administration’s proposal on each economic issue, eliminating the flexibility of traditional negotiations.

What happens next is complicated.

Even if the bill passes out of the General Assembly, Rauner must still sign it into law, and he’ll have 90 days after HB 580 gets to his desk to either sign it, veto portions of the bill or veto it altogether.

If Rauner takes the full 90 days at his disposal to review – and ultimately veto HB 580 – the earliest it would return to the General Assembly for an override vote would be mid-May. However, the Labor Relations Board is expected to issue its ruling on the state of the governor’s negotiations with AFSCME sometime in the spring.

It’s unclear what will happen if the Illinois Labor Relations Board declares an impasse and then HB 580 passes – a board ruling would come first, and would either become moot or supersede the impending strike.

Either way, HB 580 is a dangerous prospect that could pave the way for an AFSCME contract that would cost taxpayers nearly $3.6 billion over four years.

When Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan pushed SB 1229 in late 2015, he fell three votes short of overriding the governor’s veto, though he announced publicly that he had the support needed to get his way. The veto stood thanks to the willingness of three Democrats – state Reps. Jack Franks, Ken Dunkin and Scott Drury – to stand up to the powerful House speaker.

Ultimately, what’s most important is an AFSCME contract the state can afford. That will require union officials to be pragmatic about Illinois’ ability to continue granting expensive benefit increases.

Rauner has already come to new contract agreements with 17 other unions, including the Teamsters. Understanding the state’s dire fiscal straits, the Teamsters engaged in honest negotiations and agreed to a four-year salary freeze in return for incentive bonuses, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Teamsters Joint Council President John T. Coli had this to say:

“Members of the Rauner Administration proved to be tough, but reasonable and honest negotiators. They compromised and gave concessions to us in order to reach an agreement that was fair to the state as well as the Teamsters. Our negotiations prove that when both sides come to the table and leave political agendas at the door, the citizens of Illinois benefit.”

Whether HB 580 passes or fails, or the Labor Relations Board rules an impasse exists or not, AFSCME officials must follow the Teamsters’ lead.

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