What an AFSCME strike would mean for workers, residents

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
January 20, 2017

What an AFSCME strike would mean for workers, residents

As an AFSCME strike looms on the horizon, many are questioning how a strike would affect state workers and Illinois residents. While a potential strike should have minimal impact on residents, AFSCME members have much more to lose.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees leaders announced Jan. 13 that the union will hold a strike authorization vote between Jan. 30 and Feb. 19.

AFSCME, the largest government-worker union in Illinois, represents approximately 35,000 state workers. A strike authorization does not mean state workers will immediately go on strike. It simply means AFSCME’s members give permission for AFSCME leadership to call a strike.

But with a potential strike on the horizon, many are questioning what kind of impact it will have – on both state workers and residents – if state employees walk off the job.

All things considered, an AFSCME strike would hit AFSCME members the hardest.

Impact on striking workers

AFSCME members who choose not to work have the most to lose if union leadership calls a strike.

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 like health insurance. The state estimates that a striking employee would be out $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 – and that failure would be particularly detrimental to employees who walk off the job.

What’s more, a striking worker may not have a job to return to once the strike is over. Under Illinois law, the state is free to replace striking workers. The striking workers will not automatically get their jobs back once the strike is over. If there is no appropriate vacancy in an employee’s job category, he or she could be out of work indefinitely.

Of course, state workers do not have to go on strike – they can choose to work. But an AFSCME member who chooses to cross the picket line would be subject to disciplinary action by the union, including fines or expulsion from the union. To avoid discipline by union leadership, employees can become fair share payers – nonmembers not under the authority of the union, though they would still be subject to union “fair share” fees.

Impact on state residents

The impact of an AFSCME strike on Illinois residents should be minimal.

First, Illinois law prohibits public safety workers from going on strike. What’s more, the law provides that if a strike poses a clear and present danger to public safety, the state can ask a court to intervene and stop the strike.

And because rumors of an AFSCME strike have been circulating since summer 2016, Gov. Bruce Rauner has had time to line up resources to keep the state running. The administration has had “extensive conversations” with outside resources who can fill positions in the event of a strike, according to a Rauner administration memo to state workers published by The State Journal-Register. State law allows the governor to hire replacement workers.

The memo noted the state will “call on whatever resources it needs, from private vendors, other states, local governments, and other state resources” to continue state operations.

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