Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner tried to jump-start a stalled labor dispute Friday, asking the Illinois Supreme Court to allow him to impose his preferred contract terms on the state’s largest public worker union.
Earlier this month, the 4th District Appellate Court in central Illinois prevented Rauner from trying to implement his last, best and final contract offer until after the court has decided an appeal by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.
Rauner on Friday asked the state’s highest court to bypass the usual appeal process and take the case on now. In a filing to the Supreme Court, the governor’s lawyers argued that the delay caused by the appeal was costing the state money. They warned that a prolonged legal battle could prevent the Rauner administration from setting up a new health insurance system for state employees — a plan designed to reap savings for the state by passing a greater share of the costs of health insurance onto workers.
Briefs in the appeal in the case aren’t due until June, Rauner’s attorneys said, meaning the case is likely to drag beyond the state’s May 1 deadline to open an enrollment period for state workers’ health insurance.
The union had challenged a ruling by the Illinois Labor Relations Board that found Rauner and the union to be at impasse in their contract talks. That stage in negotiations would allow the governor to press forward with his preferred terms and put the union in the position of having to accept them or go on strike. AFSCME appealed to the court, which temporarily halted implementation of Rauner’s contract. The temporary stop became a permanent one in early March.
Meanwhile, AFSCME announced in February that its members had voted overwhelmingly in favor of going on strike if necessary to resist Rauner’s contract terms. The vote was intended to give the union greater leverage in its battle with Rauner.
Rauner’s lawyers, in their filing to the Supreme Court, alluded to the possibility of a strike as they argued that both sides should be free to use the tools at their disposal to resolve the dispute. Having the issue tied up in court causes a costly delay, they wrote.
“Continuing the current situation in which the parties are precluded from exercising their economic weapons for multiple months while the appeal remains in the Fourth District and then appealed to the Supreme Court is simply not tenable and will only further harm the public,” the filing reads.
The administration asked the high court to lift the stay preventing Rauner from installing his contract terms — particularly the health insurance portion.
“After 67 days of negotiation, the Administration presented AFSCME with a contract that reflects our last, best, and final offer,” Rauner General Counsel Dennis Murashko said in a statement announcing the administration’s request. “This is as far as we can go, and it is time to implement it. Every day we don’t costs our taxpayers more than $2 million, which is why we are asking the Illinois Supreme Court to resolve this case quickly.”
AFSCME Spokesman Anders Lindall argues that the appeals court has already signaled that there was a likelihood the union would prevail in its legal challenge of the impasse ruling.
“Instead of wasting more time and money in the courts, Governor Rauner should simply do his job and negotiate with our union,” Lindall said. “State workers are willing to do their part, but Bruce Rauner is so blinded by his anti-union animosity that he refuses to compromise.”
Rauner and the union are at odds over worker pay, health care costs and rules governing outsourcing. Rauner wants a wage freeze with bonuses to be paid to employees based on a merit system, while AFSCME originally sought a 2 percent pay raise in the first contract year followed by 3 percent increases for the following years.
On health care, Rauner is seeking to significantly increase the worker-paid share of health care costs. AFSCME wanted to add benefits without increasing the cost to workers. Rauner also wants to delete provisions that would restrict the administration’s ability to subcontract, and he wants overtime pay to kick in after 40 hours have been worked, rather than the current 37.5-hour threshold. AFSCME has objected to both ideas.