State workers union to vote on strike authorization

By John O’Connor  Chicago Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ largest public-employee union told its members Friday that they soon will vote on whether to authorize a strike if contract talks with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration remain stalled.

The vote would not guarantee a strike, but indicate whether members of the state council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees want to give their bargaining committee power to walk off the job after Rauner dismissed a contract-compromise plan this week.

In that plan, the union offered to forgo any general wage increases for a four-year period, although newer employees would still be entitled to annual “step” increases as they gain experience in their first eight years. Among other concessions, AFSCME offered to pay more for health insurance, but a Rauner spokeswoman called the offer “superficial.”

AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch termed the concessions “real sacrifice” in a memo to employees.

“Rather than recognizing that sacrifice and taking up the opportunity to chart a new course, the governor is refusing to make any compromise,” Lynch said.

Voting will be Jan. 30 to Feb. 19. Rauner’s office also condemned the call for a vote.

Dennis Murashko, general counsel for the governor, painted the administration’s demands as “commonsense changes” such as requiring a 40-hour work week and “zero tolerance” for intoxication at work. Those are provisions the administration has implemented in recent weeks because a state labor board ruled last fall that negotiations were at “impasse,” allowing the governor to implement his plan and the union to accept it or strike.

“AFSMCE has rushed to authorize a strike, putting Illinois residents at risk,” Murashko said. “It is disappointing that AFSCME refuses to respect the state labor board’s bipartisan ruling and work with us to implement a contract that is fair to taxpayers and state employees alike.”

The Illinois AFSCME council has never taken a strike authorization vote, let alone walked the picket line, in its 45-year history of collective bargaining with the state. The union has generally enjoyed good relations with both Republican and Democratic governors.

But the state, operating for more than 18 months with no budget because of a stalemate on spending priorities between Rauner and Democrats who control the Legislature, rarely has had such a dire budget situation, leading Rauner to argue that government cost-cutting should also apply to its unions.

— Associated Press