With no strike fund and replacements in waiting, AFSCME gets relief via contract extension
Illinois’ largest government union has agreed to a two-month extension as it negotiates a new contract with the state.
On July 29, two days before the end of the one-month contract extension between the state of Illinois and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the parties agreed to another two-month extension.
AFSCME represents 38,000 Illinois government employees.
According to the State Journal-Register, “the agreement says that ‘neither side will resort to strike, work stoppage, work slowdown, or lockout between August 1, 2015 and September 30, 2015, or until impasse is reached, whichever comes later.’ It also says that if a new labor agreement is not reached by the end of September, both sides will meet no later than September 29 ‘in order to negotiate whether this agreement should be modified and if so how.’”
The no-strike-or-lockout clause is good news for AFSMCE, as the state was better prepared for a work stoppage than the union.
Less than a week before the new agreement, reports surfaced saying the state was preparing for a possible strike by contacting retirees to fill in for workers who walk out. Some retired state workers had received calls over the last few weeks “to determine if they would be willing to return to work on short-term contracts in the event of a strike,” according to the State Journal-Register.
There were also rumors that officials considered calling the National Guard to fill in should an AFSCME walkout occur.
Though neither the National Guard nor the governor’s office confirmed these rumors, NBC Chicago reported that “Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly did not deny that the office reached out to retired state workers and the National Guard.”
“We are actively pursuing all options to continue important state services in the event that AFSCME chooses to strike, rather than agree to proposals similar to those recently ratified in the Teamsters,” said Kelly in a statement. Kelly was referencing a Cook County Teamsters local, which recently approved contract language that granted incentive bonuses but with a four-year wage freeze.
However, AFSCME was not as well prepared and indicated it did not plan to advise their members to stop working if the extension were to expire.
“Every citizen of the state relies, whether they know it or not, relies on services provided by state workers. A work stoppage benefits no one and it certainly something that our members don’t want,” AFSCME Legislative Director Joanna Webb-Gauvin told Fox Illinois.
No strike fund for AFSCME
The reason for the union’s reluctance to strike may be because AFSCME has no strike fund. The union has not needed one in the past as its leadership has not had a work stoppage in the 40 years it has negotiated with the state, thanks in part to very generous contracts approved by former governors. For example, from 2004-2008 former Gov. Rod Blagojevich approved a 13 percent wage hike.
Still, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, the union had over $34 million in assets in 2014, including over $28 million in investments.
The agreement keeps AFSCME from having to make difficult decisions: How much would the union be willing to sacrifice to thwart the governor’s attempts to bring state contracts under control? And more importantly, who will make that sacrifice in the event of a strike?
Without a strike fund would ASFSCME be willing to sell or mortgage some of its assets to help its members? Or would it require it members to go without pay and without assistance to avoid giving in to the governor’s reforms?
Thankfully for the union, it may not need to answer these questions if it can come to terms with the governor. Or at the least it can put off the decision for another two months.
Senate bill could help avert a strike or lockout but at the expense of democracy
AFSCME may also be hoping that it can overturn the governor’s July 29 veto of Senate Bill 1229, which would have allowed either the union or the state to declare an impasse during contract negotiations and have an arbitrator decide the provisions of the contract to avoid a strike or lockout.
This process could strip elected representatives of the ability to negotiate contracts in the best interest of voters and taxpayers. The AFSCME bill would allow unions to unilaterally strip negotiating ability from public employers, freeze all existing benefits in place – including ongoing raises – and give unelected arbitrators the ability to bind taxpayers through new contracts.
The bill is a blatant attempt to avoid negotiations with Rauner, as the new provisions are limited to “collective bargaining agreements, expiring on or after June 30, 2015 but on or before June 30, 2019.”
The legislation passed the Illinois House of Representatives on a 67-25 vote (three representatives voted present and 23 did not vote) on May 29 and passed the Senate by a vote of 38-17 (four senators did not vote) on May 30.
In order to override the governor’s veto, AFSCME needs to muster 36 votes in the Senate and 71 in the House. The Senate will have 15 have days to vote on the override, or until Aug. 13. If they are successful, the House will have additional 15 days to do the same.
The sides are still far apart in negotiations, but at the moment it seems if AFSCME fails to override the veto on SB 1229, the governor has the stronger hand and is better prepared than union if talks break down.