AFSCME puts forth new framework for settlement of state contract
It’s been over a year since Governor Rauner walked out on negotiations for a new state employee contract. He’s refused to meet with the union ever since, instead asking the Illinois Labor Relations Board—which he appoints—to declare negotiations to be at “impasse,” opening the door to impose his own extreme terms on state employees.
When the Labor Board granted his request late in 2016, Rauner announced he would immediately move forward with imposing those terms, which include the elimination of safeguards against irresponsible subcontracting, a four-year wage freeze, a four-year step freeze, and a 100% increase in employee health care premiums.
AFSCME has appealed the Labor Board’s decision to the First District Appellate Court, and requested a stay that would prevent the governor from imposing his terms until the appeal is decided. The request for the stay is before a three-judge panel of the court. Just before the holidays, one of the judges issued a temporary stay until the full panel can meet and make a ruling. This means that at least until that time, the Rauner Administration cannot impose any of its terms on employees.
Nonetheless Rauner continues to devote substantial tax dollars to high-priced outside law firms, seeking to stymie the collective bargaining process, drive down employee income, and strip away union rights. As a result, for the first time in Illinois history, state workers are now preparing to vote on whether to resist his assault by going out on strike.
An alternative path forward was recently suggested by the outcome of the interest arbitration to resolve the contract dispute between the Rauner Administration and Illinois State Troopers Lodge 41/FOP. The independent arbitrator’s award in that case provided for a four-year wage freeze, but rejected the governor’s extreme health care cost increases. Instead the arbitrator chose much more modest health care increases proposed by Troopers Lodge 41.
The AFSCME Bargaining Committee met in the first week of January and voted to establish a new framework for a settlement based on those terms. Since the governor has continued to refuse to engage in further negotiations, AFSCME is taking the initiative to unilaterally and publicly put forward this new framework for a contract settlement that significantly modifies the union’s previous positions.
On January 9, Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch sent a letter to Governor Rauner that puts forth this settlement framework on core economic issues:
- Employees would forgo any base wage increases in all four years of the contract.
- Employee contributions toward health insurance premium costs would increase by 2.5% immediately and an additional 3% in both FY 18 and FY 19, along with increases in co-pays and deductibles—the same terms which the independent arbitrator found to be acceptable in the State Police interest arbitration.
- The amounts the governor already proposed to expend on employee bonuses—$1,000 per employee in the first year of the contract and 2% of payroll in each subsequent year—would be equitably distributed to all employees as one-time payments in each of those years.
- In order to prevent large pay differentials among employees performing the same work, the 40% of employees who have not reached the top of their pay plan would move up to the next step in that plan in FY 18 and 19.
Making clear that this framework did not represent the union’s ‘last, best and final offer’ on these issues, Lynch stressed that the union stands ready to negotiate further on all other outstanding issues.
This new framework clearly refutes the governor’s claims that the union’s economic proposal is unduly costly. Under these terms, state employees would pay more for health insurance in three of the four years while receiving no base wage increase in any of the four years.
“We would hope that this unprecedented action taken by the AFSCME Bargaining Committee will serve as an impetus for the Rauner Administration to return to the bargaining table,” Lynch said. “The need is clear for a sincere effort to reach a fair contract settlement that can avert a potential strike, allowing state employees to continue to do the work to which they are deeply committed and which is so vital to the citizens of our state.”
Update: Responding to media inquiries about the union’s letter, a spokesperson in Rauner’s office called it “superficial,” ignoring the substance of the Bargaining Committee’s efforts and repeating the administration’s false claims about the cost of the union’s previous proposals.