By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration on Wednesday announced it has reached new four-year deals with several trade unions, as well as with Service Employees International Union Local 1 of Chicago and the International Union of United Food and Commercial Workers.
More than 500 employees are covered under the new agreements, the governor’s staff said.
The governor’s office and the biggest state employees union — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — offered very different takes on the significance of the new pacts.
The governor’s office said the new agreements mean Rauner, a first-term Republican from Winnetka, has so far reached agreements with 17 bargaining units that represent more than 5,000 state employees.
“These developments stand in stark contrast to the ongoing negotiations with AFSCME Council 31,” the governor’s office said in a news release.
“Despite being offered substantially the same material terms as the Teamsters and the Trades, AFSCME has to date rejected the governor’s chief proposals” the administration said.
The administration described AFSCME as being “on the opposite side of these negotiations from their own colleagues in organized labor.”
AFSCME said the governor’s office was using misleading and confrontational tactics and noted it and several other large unions still without contracts represent about 40,000 state employees, or the bulk of the workforce.
The issues in the trades talks and AFSCME negotiations are often quite different, AFSCME said, citing health insurance as one example.
“Because these (other) unions have independent health plans, their members have the option not to take state health insurance,” Council 31 said in its own statement.
Similarly, Council 31 said, trade union members pay “is typically set by the prevailing wage. Our union negotiates the health plan covering state and university employees and retirees, and bargains wage schedules for more than 500 job titles.”
Besides its health insurance offer, the governor’s office said AFSCME continues to reject or resist other items accepted by some or all of the other units, including a four-year wage freeze; a performance incentive program; a collaborative managed competition program; moving the overtime trigger to the common workplace benchmark of 40 hours; and a program to enable Illinois to address minority underutilization in state government.
AFSCME said the wage freeze coupled with increases in employee health costs, including doubled premiums, would severely hurt its members take-home pay.
Further, it argued the administration is “seeking to eliminate our contract’s safeguards against reckless privatization of public services and demanding a so-called ‘merit pay’ scheme that opens the door wide to cronyism by letting politically appointed bosses determine who gets a raise.”
The contracts for the state’s unionized employees expired at the end of June.
The administration and the unions without contracts have signed “tolling agreements,” in which both sides promise to stay at the bargaining table without threatening strike or lockout.
The agreements do not make a lockout or strike impossible, but the initiating party would have to declare talks are at an impasse, and the Illinois Labor Relations Board would examine that claim.
AFSCME and several other unions are also suing in St. Clair County Circuit Court in an attempt to lock in pay while the state operates without a budget, as well as to get medical claims paid, stop layoffs and retain certain raises during the budget standoff.
The Rauner administration has agreed to suspend planned layoffs while the matters are being litigated.
Healthcare workers await talks
Elsewhere, SEIU Healthcare reps say they’re still waiting for action from the governor.
“While we are happy for our sisters and brothers at SEIU Local 1,” said SEIU Healthcare Illinois President Keith Kelleher, “the fact remains that the state’s largest bargaining units, the 52,000 low-income Illinois home healthcare and child care workers of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, continue to work without a contract while Bruce Rauner presses extreme demands that would totally destabilize this workforce.”
SEIU Healthcare employees have been working without a contract since the end of June, and Kelleher says the governor has not negotiated in good faith with the group.
“For some reason, Rauner appears to be willing to single out SEIU Healthcare for demands harsher than the other units of government with whom he has reached a deal and all of which were able to keep their bargained-for health insurance—and their union voice.”