Illinois governor, AFSCME remain deadlocked in contract talks
More than a year after talks between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) were said to have reached an impasse in negotiations over the union's contract with the state which expired on June 30, 2015, all efforts to agree on new terms have been fruitless.
AFSCME, which represents approximately 35,000 state employees throughout Illinois’ agencies and departments, came to the bargaining table with a laundry list of demands that included pay hikes of 11.5 to 29 percent by 2019, better health care coverage, paid overtime for any hours worked over 37.5 hours per week, and better pension benefits.
The estimated cost to taxpayers: an additional $3 billion in wages and pension benefits.
Rauner and his administration would not agree to the terms and instead offered to let the AFSCME keep its wages and perks despite a statewide fiscal crisis. He asserted that he was trying to bring union costs down to affordable levels for taxpayers while avoiding potential layoffs. He also proposed a temporary, four-year wage freeze and over $200 million in bonuses if employees met metrics.
According to Illinois Policy, taxpayers are already subsidizing a startling 77 percent of the average AFSCME worker’s health care, which costs $14,880 a year per worker. When an AFSCME member retires, taxpayers pay $200,000 to $500,000 for the retiree’s free lifetime health insurance.
The retired AFSCME worker also receives up to $1.6 million in pension benefits.
State workers also have up to 10 unauthorized absences without repercussions; can accumulate sick days; pay very little to receive platinum-level health care benefits; have seen their salaries soar at twice the rate of inflation and five times faster than the average Illinois worker; are paid overtime as soon as they work any time outside of their “normal hours,” which could be as few as 7.4 hours; receive overtime for training, orientation or professional development; receive pay for work on union activities and causes; and receive various other perks not offered to the average middle class Illinois worker.
When Rauner refused to meet the union’s demands, Democrats in the Senate tried to take charge of the situation and passed a bill, HB 580, in March that aimed to steer contract negotiations between the state and employee unions to binding arbitration. Springfield Democrats asserted that the bill would prevent strikes by state employees and keep the government functioning efficiently and providing services. Republicans, however, said the measure aimed to remove Rauner from the bargaining table and strip him of his authority to negotiate on behalf of voters who elected him.
As expected, Rauner vetoed the bill.
Last year, the governor vetoed Senate Bill 1229, which was nearly identical. The governor’s veto stood after an attempt to override the veto fell three votes shy in the House.
Since last year, both parties have engaged in 67 days of meetings and 24 formal negotiating sessions, with more than 300 different proposals.
No progress has been made aside from three tolling agreements that allowed state workers to continue working on the basis that both parties will continue to negotiate in good faith until a contract is reached or there is an impasse.
After negotiations broke down in January, Rauner asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to rule on whether an impasse exists between Rauner and the union.