Executive Director Reports

AFSCME members refuse to be broken

 Roberta Lynch

Roberta Lynch

Nothing has gone as the IPI or Bruce Rauner planned

AFSCME members all across Illinois have recently been the targets of yet another mail blitz from the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), practically begging us to drop our union membership.

The mailer claims that the IPI wants to make sure that union members know their rights. But the only right mentioned is the right to surrender the safeguards of a strong union contract, safety on the job, fixed hours of work, overtime pay and a decent standard of living.

Sure, the IPI asserts that public employees could still have all the rights that a union contract provides—and without paying a dime. But it conveniently fails to mention that if our union is robbed of financial resources—and the backing of a strong, united membership—then it will become increasingly difficult to secure and enforce those rights.

The very essence of the term “union” is people joining together, in this case to act for their common good. If there is no true union of purpose, then there can be no progress.

The Illinois Policy Institute cares not a whit about the rights to respect and fairness on the job for public employees. Just the opposite: The IPI consistently wages war on those rights. It has launched a major attack on the AFSCME collective bargaining agreement for state employees, alleging that pay rates are excessively high, benefits too generous, disciplinary procedures “lax,” overtime pay “exorbitant,” and “privileges” (whatever that term means) “lavish.”

The IPI’s goal is simple: They want to strip away all those hated economic gains and workplace rights embodied in public employees’ union contracts.

And, of course, that’s exactly what their long-time financial backer and former enforcer Bruce Rauner tried to do. As governor, he withheld scheduled step increases for four years, pushed to send employee health care costs through the roof, sought to gut protections against wanton privatization and cronyism, and refused to negotiate in good faith with our union for a new contract.

But standing together, AFSCME members in state government refused to be bullied or broken. Our union fought back on every front—with worksite pickets and massive rallies, in the legislative arena and in the courts. We stood our ground and would not be moved.

That kind of defiant determination was reflected in dozens of other battles AFSCME members at every level of government have been fighting.

In Kane County, employees stood firm against a county board chair who tried to cheat them out of negotiated wage increases. In Sangamon County, public health workers have voted to authorize a strike rather than take the paltry pay increases management has on the table. In Rockford, school bus drivers beat back an attempt by the school board to privatize their jobs. The list could go on.

The Illinois Policy Institute and Rauner also teamed up to continue the assault on public employee pensions. Rauner repeatedly tried to move various pension reduction schemes through the Illinois General Assembly, but the Illinois Supreme Court ruling that the public employee unions won upholding the pension protection clause of the state constitution provided a strong firewall against him. The IPI went so far as to call on Rauner to just outright fire every state employee—then hire them back, minus their pension benefits!

But nothing has quite gone as planned for the IPI and the shadowy elite that provide its big-bucks budget. Instead—with a big assist from organized labor—Rauner was run out of office by one of the largest losing margins for an incumbent in decades and a new governor was voted in who actually respects public employees and their unions.

One of JB Pritzker’s first acts as governor was to restore scheduled step increases to state employees. Then, in just a few short months of bargaining with the Pritzker Administration, AFSCME members in state government concluded negotiations on a new contract that restores step increases, includes pay increases to keep up with the cost of living and improves job safety.

And instead of AFSCME members dropping out of their union when the anti-worker majority on the U.S. Supreme Court voted to ban fair share fees, more than a thousand former feepayers have signed up to become union members!

So, the reason the IPI is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on mailings to AFSCME members—and even to members of Chapter 31 Retirees—is clear. It’s called desperation. We’re the target because we’re succeeding. By standing together as a union, we’re continuing to improve the lives of working families, not drive down family income as the IPI so desperately wants to do.

Every time an IPI mailing goes out, AFSCME receives countless messages of support from employees who see right through the sham solicitation and vow to keep standing in solidarity with their co-workers as union members.

We’ve come a very long way since that cold day Bruce Rauner was elected in the fall of 2014. It’s been a rough ride to be sure. But we’re AFSCME Strong—and stronger for it—and we’re not going to stop now.

This column is from the May-June 2019 issue of On the Move.