Amid talk of strike, rhetoric between AFSCME, state officials heats up
While whispers of "strike" continue to be heard among the membership of the state's largest public sector union, the on-and-off negotiations with the governor reveal the power of that union, the president of a nonpartisan public-interest litigation center said.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is preparing for a strike, Patrick Hughes, president of the Liberty Justice Center, said in an article published on the website Illinois Opportunity Project, of which he is a co-founder. The state's experience with AFSCME hasn't been as cordial as with other unions who represent state employees, Hughes said.
"At least 18 unions -- including the Teamsters and Illinois Federation of Teachers -- have ratified contracts with the state," Hughes said in his article. "Instead of joining their union brothers and sisters who have negotiated in good faith with the state and agreed on contracts that took into account Illinois’ dire fiscal situation, AFSCME has used its size and influence to engage in a misinformation campaign and to duck the process it once promised to follow."
In 2010, Hughes, an attorney, real estate developer and home builder who was then chairman of Sensible Taxpayers Opposed to Increased Taxes, ran as a Republican seeking President Barack Obama's former Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate. Hughes came in second during the primary behind Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who went on to win the seat, which he has held ever since.
There is something historically recognizable in the union's demands, Hughes said in his article.
"The issues are familiar. AFSCME wants higher wages -- 29 percent over four years, to be precise. They are demanding a 37.5-hour work week and full health benefits for part-time and even laid-off workers."
Hughes said the AFSCME appears to be trying to see how far they can go with their demands.
"Illinois has been a blue, pro-union state for decades," Hughes said. "But now AFSCME and its approximately 38,000 workers have tested the limits of the state’s historic support. They have tested the tolerance of the Illinoisans used as pawns in the labor strike game -- hourly employees and those in need of state services. And they have tested the leniency of the state’s taxpayers -- families and businesses -- who are being asked to shell out even more of their hard-earned money to mollify the demands of a powerful and politically aligned public-sector union."
Those who speak for AFSCME tell a different story, largely about broken faith between its members and the state's Republican governor, whom they say has spread misinformation and harassed state employees.
"Seven months after Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration broke off contract talks and walked away from the bargaining table with AFSCME, the governor’s top staff are ramping up a desperate campaign of misinformation and outright lies aimed at distracting and dividing state employees and weakening our union," one AFSCME press release said. "State workers are understandably frustrated and angry with the administration’s union-busting misbehavior."
Union officials also objected to an Aug. 5 email sent to all state employees by John Terranova, Illinois Department of Central Management Services' (CMS) deputy director of labor relations, telling them how to change their union status. Rauner has countered that the union has threatened to fine any of its 38,000 members who cross a picket line, should there be a strike.
The union also has urged Rauner to sign Illinois House Bill 5931, which would set a $15 base wage for direct-support personnel who care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in nonprofit agencies.
Mostly, the communication between the union and Rauner administration is through press releases and emails directed at each other. While the union has not said it has decided to strike, there are indications that such a work stoppage could become more general.
"The International Union will seek to involve other labor unions and labor's allies at the national level to assist in the efforts of the Illinois labor movement to resist Bruce Rauner's assaults on fundamental collective bargaining rights," part of a resolution by union Delegate Tracey Abman, Local 2199, Council 31, which is posted on AFSCME's national website, said.