Illinois labor board ruling soon may allow state to force terms on AFSCME
In a victory for Gov. Bruce Rauner and his administration, the Illinois Labor Relations Board ruled in a 5-0 vote on Nov. 15 that the state and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) have reached an impasse in their contract negotiations.
Negotiations between the state and AFSCME started on July 1, 2015, when the union’s contract with the state expired. Talks between the union and the state have been called contentious by many, with both sides disagreeing on issues such as raises, overtime, bonuses and pensions.
The union has said the Rauner administration wasn’t bargaining in good faith by walking away from the table. State Administrative Law Judge Sarah Kerley concluded on Sept. 2 that both sides were, in fact, acting in good faith and ruled that while Rauner’s administration can impose some stipulations on the union, the two sides should keep talking.
The latest decision by the board supersedes Kerley’s decision and allows Rauner to impose his offer on AFSCME. The union, in turn, can either choose to accept Rauner's offer or go on strike. AFSCME representatives have said they will appeal the board’s determination before considering any further actions. In addition, Rauner cannot impose his offer on the union until a written ruling is issued.
AFSCME represents 38,000 state workers, and its members are some of the highest-paid state workers in the nation. The median salary for an AFSCME member is $63,600, compared to the $32,000 median for a private-sector worker in Illinois.
A high salary is just one of the many perks AFSCME members receive. Their overtime kicks in after 7.5 hours of work per day, rather than after 40 hours per week. Members get 10 to 25 workdays off per year for vacation, which can be cashed out for payment if unused.
AFSCME workers also get platinum-level health insurance for bronze-level prices, which are subsidized up to 77 percent by taxpayers, costing them an average of $14,880 a year per employee. Retired AFSCME members receive free health insurance, which costs taxpayers $200,000 to $500,000 per employee. AFSCME retirees also receive, on average, $1.6 million in pension benefits.
AFSCME is fighting to keep these benefits, as well as asking for a 29 percent pay increase for its members by 2019. Rauner's administration estimated that those demands would cost the state an additional $3 billion in pay and benefits annually, with the wage-increase demand costing the state nearly $1 billion alone.
In the face of the financial crisis the state is facing, Rauner had asked for a pay freeze for four years, a performance-based bonus system, overtime only after a 40-hour workweek and for AFSCME workers to pay 40 percent of their health care premiums, with taxpayers still subsidizing 60 percent of union workers' health care. AFSCME workers would still be able to maintain their current salary levels under Rauner’s last proposal, however.
With the board’s recent decision, Rauner may be able to force his less-expensive contract terms upon AFSCME. The decision is now on the union to either accept the offer or go on strike.