Illinois state workers authorize strike

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
February 23, 2017

Illinois state workers authorize strike

After months of obstructing progress on a contract for state workers, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have voted to authorize a strike – a walkout on state taxpayers – should leadership issue the call.

For months, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has obstructed progress on a contract for Illinois state employees.

Now state workers represented by AFSCME have voted to give the union’s bargaining committee authority to call a strike.

Eighty percent of AFSCME workers turned out to vote. After three weeks of voting, the union announced that 81 percent of state workers who voted authorized a strike. Should union leadership tell state workers to walk out, it would be the first-ever AFSCME strike in state history.

What is this strike about?

Throughout contract negotiations with the state, AFSCME leadership made demands that would cost Illinois taxpayers $3 billion more in additional state-worker wages and benefits, compared with the state’s offer. Despite the fact that Illinois state workers are already the highest-paid state workers in the nation when adjusted for cost of living, AFSCME demanded wage increases of up to 29 percent, overtime after just 37.5 hours in a week, and platinum-level health care coverage at little cost to state workers.

AFSCME’s unreasonable demands led to a stalemate in contract negotiations, with the Illinois Labor Relations Board determining that AFSCME and the state had reached an impasse. That meant Gov. Bruce Rauner could implement his last, best and final offer to the union.

But AFSCME refuses to accept Rauner’s offer or the labor board’s decision. Now members have authorized the union to call a strike in order to bully taxpayers into paying for lavish benefits Illinoisans simply cannot afford.

What happens next?

The strike authorization does not mean state employees will walk away from their jobs immediately. It simply means AFSCME’s bargaining committee is authorized to call a strike, should it decide to do so.

However, union leadership has warned its members that a strike authorization means employees “will be prepared to go out on strike” in the event leadership “issues the call.”

AFSCME can’t issue a midnight call for a strike and leave the state at a standstill when offices open the next day. Instead, Illinois law requires AFSCME to give at least five days’ notice of intent to strike before walking out.

That allows both the state and residents some time to prepare. And the governor’s administration has already indicated it is doing just that.

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