Looming AFSCME negotiations means big battle for Illinois’ next governor
With everyone arguing about the minimum wage, taxes and pension reforms, many people may not realize the most important battle Illinois’ next governor will face: negotiating the state’s largest government union contract. Whoever is elected governor will be stuck with a partisan and bitter legislature, making his ability to push through bold legislative reforms extremely...
With everyone arguing about the minimum wage, taxes and pension reforms, many people may not realize the most important battle Illinois’ next governor will face: negotiating the state’s largest government union contract.
Whoever is elected governor will be stuck with a partisan and bitter legislature, making his ability to push through bold legislative reforms extremely difficult.
But one responsibility that will fall solely on the next governor’s shoulders is the negotiation of the state’s American Federation of State, Federal, County and Municipal Employees union contract, which covers 36,000 state workers and is set to expire in 2015.
The AFSCME union contract may not get much publicity, but it dictates immense control over Illinois’ operations, workforce costs and, in turn, pension obligations.
Even small tweaks to a contract this large can mean the difference of hundreds of millions of dollars in savings or extra spending. For instance, a single 2 percent increase in wages equates to well over $100 million in tax revenue.
Residents deserve a leader willing to take a strong stand during contract negotiations.
The current AFSCME contract is riddled with language causing waste.
Right now, up to $1 million is being spent on employees for hours they’re not working because they show up to work late, all because the contract states “there shall be no general policy docking for late arrival.” These same workers can earn time-and-a-half for anything worked past their normal hours. This is waste that could be eliminated.
State workers benefit from a minimum of two contractual raises a year. They receive an anniversary or “step” wage increase of about 3.7 percent, and then receive 2-4 percent general increases on top of it. In addition, state workers receive extras for call-back pay, bilingual pay, stand-by pay, overtime pay, free tuition, automatic promotions and an onslaught of others benefits.
State AFSCME workers’ wage increases should be frozen until the state’s budget is on solid fiscal ground.
Work rules have just as many issues. For instance, because of how the contract is written, workers can blow off work for 12 days in a row without getting fired.
According to the Affirmative Attendance Policy, a worker could call up their supervisor and say, “Hey, I’m just not going to show up today,” 12 separate times before they could be fired.
Worse yet, the “discipline” for the previous 11 offenses would just be a written reprimand with no actual suspension. According to the contract: “Except for the last offense before discharge, no employee will serve any suspension time.”
The AFSCME contract is filled with wasteful and damaging language that needs to be eliminated.
Asking the union for concessions in compensation and work rules would have a drastic effect on the state’s wellbeing; but it won’t be easy.
Illinois’ largest union will fight back with strikes, rallies and protests. For over a decade, AFSCME has been negotiating – behind closed doors – with governors they supported politically They’ve grown accustomed to a multitude of consistent wage increases and work rules that are favorable to the union. But Illinois can’t afford it anymore.
If AFSCME does strike, the governor should mandate that essential state workers return to work, while also finding alternative, contracted nonprofits and social service entities to temporarily provide services.
According to Illinois law, “essential services employees means those public employees performing functions so essential that the interruption or termination of the function will constitute a clear and present danger to the health and safety of the persons in the affected community.”
If essential child-care workers, prison personnel and others refuse to return, the governor should immediately petition the labor relations board.
According to state law: “If a strike, which may constitute a clear and present danger to the health and safety of the public is about to occur or is in progress, the public employer concerned may petition the board to make an investigation and conduct a hearing.”
It may be a hard fought battle, but it can be won.
Whoever wins in November better be prepared for a battle with the state’s largest union. It may be the most difficult and important obstacle he’ll have to face.