Illinois takes steps to more easily replace striking workers

Illinois takes steps to more easily replace striking workers

Following a strike authorization vote by the union representing Illinois workers, the state launched a website that streamlines the application process for temporary workers. It allows the state to more easily carry on operations should state workers decide to walk out on the job.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – the union representing approximately 35,000 state workers in Illinois – announced on Feb. 23 that its members had voted to authorize a strike.

To help ensure that state operations continue to run smoothly in the event of an AFSCME strike, the state launched a new website that streamlines the application process for temporary workers. Located at statejobs.illinois.gov, the one-page form allows applicants to fill in basic contact information, county preferences and job category preferences.

Under Illinois law, the state is free to temporarily replace striking workers should AFSCME call a strike. And depending on the type of strike, those temporary replacements could become permanent. Unfortunately for state workers contemplating a strike, AFSCME has been less than forthright with its members on the potential impact those replacement workers could have on striking employees’ careers.

For those AFSCME members not wanting to risk their jobs, there is a way to continue working without fear of union punishment. They can become fair share payers and cross the picket line.

Temporary workers could become permanent

The state can hire temporary replacement workers to ensure state operations continue. In its press release announcing the streamlined application process, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office explained that the website provides “a way for state agencies to efficiently identify those who could work on a temporary basis.”

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

Whether 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 can 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.

This means there might be no available positions for returning workers after a strike. A striking worker would be added to a preferential hiring list, but there’s no guarantee such an opening would occur in any particular timeframe.

The governor’s office has indicated it would consider making those replacement workers permanent: “Although individuals would be hired on a temporary basis in response to the strike, the State would then begin taking the steps necessary to fill positions permanently.”

The union has not been forthright with its members about the implications of replacement workers

The union routinely skirts the serious implications of replacement workers when communicating with its members.

For example, in a document entitled “Q&A: Strike Authorization Vote,” the union addresses several questions related to a potential strike. Two questions involve the state’s ability to replace striking workers.

Instead of acknowledging the legal ability of the state to replace workers, AFSCME focuses on the practical ability of the state to replace workers. The union claims, “The Administration could not replace even a small fraction of 28,000 skilled, knowledgeable, and dedicated employees.”

The union never admits to its members that the state is free to hire temporary – and perhaps even permanent – workers.

The union should be upfront with its members and tell them the state is free to legally replace striking workers. Failing to relay this fact means AFSCME could be sending its workers on strike without giving them accurate information to weigh the serious decision of whether to strike.

And now that the state has taken steps to streamline the application process for replacement workers, the state’s legal right to replace workers has become a very real practical possibility.

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