Scott Reeder: Rauner unlikely to budge in union fight

Scott Reeder: Rauner unlikely to budge in union fight

SPRINGFIELD — Last week, when I heard that members of state government's largest union voted to authorize a strike, I just shook my head and wondered, "What are they thinking?"

Many state workers view this as necessary saber rattling so their union bosses can continue to pressure the governor.

Good luck on that. I don't see Gov. Bruce Rauner bending one iota.

Here is what his administration had to say when the AFSCME vote numbers were revealed: "The vote to authorize a strike is an attack on our state's hardworking taxpayers and all those who rely on critical services provided every day. It is a direct result of AFSCME leadership's ongoing misinformation campaign about our proposal."

Politicians are prone to hyperbole.

But in this case, not so much.

One of the issues is when AFSCME workers should be able to collect overtime pay. Right now, they only have to work 37 1/2 hours before they can start collecting time and half pay.

Most private-sector workers can't get overtime until they have worked 40 hours.

The great national labor leader John L. Lewis once was asked what organized labor wanted. He response was telling: "more." Lewis is buried on Springfield's north side but his spirit lives on in the American labor movement.

Here's the problem with the current labor negotiations with the state of Illinois: There isn't "more" to give.

Our state is broke. We have a backlog of unpaid bills that is expected to be $15 billion by July. State pensions are underfunded to the tune of $120 billion. And our state's credit rating is the worst of any state. Our bonds could be downgraded to "junk" status.

There are a lot of places to place the blame for the state's nasty fiscal predicament.

But perhaps the most obvious place to put it is Springfield's culture of acquiescence. For decades, Republicans and Democrats alike have given into union demands and promised more than the state could afford.

And usually those promised benefits would be paid for when some future politician was in office. We are talking about things like pensions.

State workers have far more generous pension and health insurance benefits than most of the Illinois taxpayers who are paying not only for those benefits but for their own.

Because the state is broke, the governor is asking for concessions from workers.

Nobody likes to see their benefits cut back.

At a newspaper chain I once worked for, when advertising revenue went south, I saw my employer's contribution to my 401k disappear and my health insurance premiums go up.

I wasn't happy about those things. But I understood those sacrifices were necessary in order for my employer to stay in business. My experience is hardly unique. Many folks who have worked in the private sector have had similar experiences.

But there appears to be an aversion to sacrifice on the part of the leaders of AFSCME.

Would it be asking too much for state employees to work a 40-hour work week and pay more for their insurance premiums — like most folks outside of government do?

I don't think so. And neither do most Illinoisans.

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and produces the podcast 'Suspect Convictions.' He can be reached at ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.

Sections (2):Columns, Opinion

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Sid Saltfork wrote on March 06, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Goggle Scott Reeder.  There is no journalism involved.  Mr. Reeder is just a paid GOP media hack.  His job as paid by Rauner is to divert the public's attention to stereotypical evil doers, state employees.  He is just another in the long expensive line of propagandists paid by billionaire Rauner..

Who cancelled the compromises made by both parties in the legislature for a budget?  Rauner cancelled it due to his "demands" not being totally met.  The budget issue is due to Rauner's "demands".  The pending employee strike is due to Rauner's "demands".  Of course, Mr. Reeder does not get paid to tell the public that information.

Reeder, probably, writes for Hallmark Cards on the side.

-