More than 2 years later, AFSCME still fighting state on new contract

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
August 11, 2017

More than 2 years later, AFSCME still fighting state on new contract

Since the expiration of AFSCME’s contract with the state of Illinois on July 1, 2015, the union has ignored the state’s financial plight, sticking to its demands and refusing reasonable contract provisions offered by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

July 1 marked the two-year anniversary of the expiration of the state’s contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Illinois’ largest government worker union.

The approximately 35,000 state employees represented by AFSCME have been working without a contract the past two years.

Since 2015, the state of Illinois has reached collective bargaining agreements with at least 20 other unions.

The state and AFSCME officials could have reached an agreement long ago, as well. But instead, AFSCME chose to ignore the state’s financial plight – including the massive bill backlog and pension debt – and has continued to demand the state pay $3 billion in additional wages and benefits to state employees over the life of the contract.

That’s not the total cost of the contract AFSCME is demanding. That’s what AFSCME wants on top of already-generous pay and benefits promised by the governor.

It’s been a long two years, with a lot of twists and turns along the way. Read on to catch up on AFSCME’s benefits, its demands and rejection of a reasonable offer, and the current status of the AFSCME impasse.

AFSCME’s already-generous benefits

Illinois state workers are the highest-paid state workers in the nation when adjusted for cost of living.

In fact, Illinois AFSCME workers receive, on average, nearly $110,000 in total compensation.

AFSCME wages have grown by leaps and bounds compared with those of Illinoisans in the private sector. Between 2005 and 2014, AFSCME worker salaries grew five times faster than Illinois workers’ earnings and increased at twice the rate of inflation.

Extraordinary benefits continue even after retirement. AFSCME employees receive free health insurance at retirement simply by working 20 or more years. This benefit alone will cost taxpayers $200,000 to $500,000 per employee in today’s dollars. Career state retirees on average receive $1.6 million in pension benefits over the course of their retirement, in addition to Social Security.

But all of that isn’t enough for AFSCME leadership. It wants more.

AFSCME’s rejection of a reasonable offer

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s last contract offer to the union attempted to rein in union costs while also avoiding widespread state worker layoffs. But AFSCME ignored the economic realities facing the state, refusing to accept a contract that is fair to both state workers and taxpayers.

Rauner wants a temporary wage freeze during the term of the contract. But AFSCME is demanding pay increases of up to 29 percent over the course of the contract.

Rauner wants a typical 40-hour workweek before overtime kicks in. But AFSCME wants overtime at 37.5 hours.

Rauner wants employees to pay 40 percent of their health care costs. This means state taxpayers will continue subsidizing 60 percent of an AFSCME employee’s health care, at $11,600 per worker annually – still a significant amount by any standard. AFSCME wants the state to continue providing platinum-level health benefits at little cost to state employees.

And many other lavish perks – such as lax disciplinary rules allowing workers up to 10 unauthorized absences without repercussions – would continue under Rauner’s last offer.

But AFSCME rejected reason and sound policy, and would not relent in its demands.

Those demands led the Illinois Labor Relations Board to determine that the parties are at impasse, or stalemate, in negotiations. That should have meant the governor could implement his last and best offer.

But AFSCME still wasn’t satisfied.

Where things stand

AFSCME is now fighting the labor board’s determination in state court, where an appeal remains pending before the 4th District Appellate Court. In the meantime, AFSCME’s membership voted to authorize a strike – and walk out on state residents – should a court decide the governor can implement his contract offer.

Oral arguments may not be heard until December 2017. And no matter what the 4th District decides, the case will likely proceed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

That means taxpayers shouldn’t expect resolution – or relief – until at least 2018.

In the meantime, the cost of AFSCME’s recalcitrance is significant. For each month AFSCME’s contract with the state is not in effect, Illinois is paying an additional $35 million to $40 million – on health coverage alone. Over the course of the 25 months the state has been without a contract, that’s $875 million to $1 billion.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!