Illinois state workers risk losing jobs by going on strike

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
February 23, 2017

Illinois state workers risk losing jobs by going on strike

State workers represented by AFSCME are currently voting on whether to authorize a strike - here's what's at stake for employees who decide to honor a strike.

The executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is demanding that Illinois state employees risk everything – including their jobs – to toe the union line.

AFSCME is currently holding a strike authorization vote. State workers and their families are discussing whether to strike, and how to make ends meet if they do.

AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch made it clear in a January letter to AFSCME members that if they vote to authorize a strike and AFSCME leadership thinks this is the best course to take, workers are expected to “be prepared to go out on strike when the committee issues the call.”

But whether to strike is an intensely personal and important decision. State workers deserve all the facts while they consider their options – including information about what a worker risks by choosing to go on strike.

Immediate impact: Striking workers could lose $8,000 a month in wages and benefit contributions

Union members who strike would be out of work – and unpaid – for an indefinite period of time. In addition to wages, AFSCME workers who choose to strike would forego the state’s contributions to benefits such as health insurance. The state estimates that a striking employee would be out, on average, $8,000 in lost wages, pension and health insurance contributions for each month of an AFSCME strike.

It has long been reported that AFSCME doesn’t maintain a strike fund, which is a big disadvantage for employees who walk off the job.

This failure to maintain a strike fund also calls into question the reasonableness of Lynch’s demands, given that her own organization has neglected to take steps to protect AFSCME members. But of course, Lynch and other AFSCME leaders will continue to get paid, all while expecting state workers to go without while on strike.

Long-term impact: Striking workers could lose their jobs

Union members who go on strike risk losing their jobs – perhaps permanently.

Whether or not a striking worker can be permanently replaced depends on what kind of strike is taking place. In general, there are two types of strikes: unfair labor practice strikes and economic strikes. For example, a strike protesting unsafe working conditions would be considered an unfair labor practice strike.

On the other hand, a strike intended to force an employer to pay higher wages would be considered an economic strike. As such, an AFSCME strike would likely fall in the economic strike category.

Typically, workers participating in an unfair labor practice strike cannot be permanently replaced. The employer could hire temporary replacement workers in order to maintain operations, but the state would have to reinstate striking employees when the strike is resolved.

But employees participating in an economic strike – such as one in which workers are demanding higher wages – could be permanently replaced.

Replacement workers hired by the state to maintain operations during the strike would be able to remain in those positions, even when the economic strike ended. A striking worker might not be reinstated immediately, because replacement workers are entitled to keep their jobs.

This means there might be no available positions for returning workers after a strike. Instead, a striking worker would be added to a preferential hiring list. When a position opened, a qualified employee on the list would be given the option of coming back to work. But there’s no guarantee such an opening would occur in any particular timeframe.

Clearly, an AFSCME strike could have a devastating impact on striking workers and their families. AFSCME members do have another option: They can become fair share payers. As fair share payers, they would be entitled to all the benefits provided in the contract – with the added benefit that they are out from under the control Lynch is trying to exercise over union members.

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