Illinois Federation of Teachers agrees to affordable contract with state of Illinois

Illinois Federation of Teachers agrees to affordable contract with state of Illinois

The Illinois Federation of Teachers is the latest union to work out an agreement with the state.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers, or IFT, representing educators at the Illinois School for the Deaf, ratified a collective bargaining agreement May 17 with Gov. Bruce Rauner 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.

IFT’s agreement stands in sharp contrast to the state’s ongoing negotiations with Illinois’ biggest government union – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – and that union’s refusal to negotiate reasonably.

At least 17 other unions have also ratified agreements with the state of Illinois.

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.

On the other hand, AFSCME has repeatedly rejected similar provisions. In contrast with the other 17 unions to reach agreements with the state, only AFSCME has demanded guaranteed wage increases and platinum-level health insurance coverage at little to no cost to union members.

Unlike the other unions that have negotiated with the state, AFSCME’s leadership seems to be in denial that the state is on the brink of financial ruin. Rather than seeking to ease the burden on state taxpayers by accepting a four-year wage freeze, AFSCME has demanded automatic, four-year raises that would raise payroll between 11.5 to 21 percent by 2019. AFSCME has rejected the governor’s proposal of a 40-hour workweek, instead demanding that overtime kick in for workers after 37.5 hours. In addition, AFSCME has rejected 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 was ratified by Jan. 1, 2016.

AFSCME’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.

Yet AFSCME’s demands would widen that financial disparity, requiring even more money from taxpayers who have already footed the bill for government salary increases that vastly outpace their own.

Since negotiations began, the state and AFSCME have had 67 days of meetings, 24 formal negotiating sessions, and over 300 different proposals. Negotiations came to a halt in January, with AFSCME’s lead negotiator stating, “I have nothing else to say and am not interested in hearing what you have to say at this point – carry that message that back to your principals.”

AFSCME’s continued failure to accept any of the state’s proposals led Rauner to seek a determination of impasse from the Illinois Labor Relations Board in January. That board could determine that the state has submitted its best and final offer, thereby allowing the governor to implement that offer.

But should the board instead direct the parties to continue negotiations, AFSCME needs to take its cue from other unions, such as IFT, that have reached agreements with the state so AFSCME can stop wasting taxpayer time and money and start negotiating reasonably.

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