A balancing act
Gov. Pat Quinn has again drawn the ire of a public employees' union.
Management and labor go together like love and marriage. But for too long in Illinois, state government has been almost all labor and very little management.
Over the weekend, Gov. Quinn signed legislation to restore that balance, and he ought to enforce it in an aggressive manner.
For starters, let's be clear about what this legislation is and what it emphatically is not. It is not an attack on organized labor — it's a recognition that there is a fundamental difference between labor and management and that neither's interests are served when it's virtually all one or the other.
In Illinois, 97 percent of the state's workforce is unionized, and that workforce includes supervisors and managers. The state's roughly 50,000 employees include only 1,700 managers who actually are management.
Even Quinn's personal liaisons to the Legislature are unionized, which is crazy because the liaisons are supposed to owe their sole allegiance to the governor's agenda. That they are unionized shows just how far out of whack the labor/management balance had become.
This problem did not occur overnight. It started during the tenure of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the full extent of whose mismanagement of state business has yet to be determined. He mishandled state spending by withholding pay increases from nonunion employees while lavishing them on members of the union that filled his campaign coffers.
That prompted hundreds of managers to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Their action is understandable, but the fact that managers could avail themselves of union membership shows how sloppy Illinois' personnel policies were.
The legislation in question is narrowly drafted, applying only to management-type employees who are not union members or joined the union on or before Dec. 2, 2008. Union members who are restored to management will not suffer any salary reduction. Those who are targeted for reassignment have the option of filling a union job.
It remains to be seen how many employees actually will be affected by the legislation. The legislation establishes a ceiling of 1,900 employees, but Abdon Pallasch, Quinn's budget spokesman, said "we're not going to go that high." Unfortunately, union leaders who negotiated the details of the legislation are using apocalyptic rhetoric suggesting that the Quinn administration is way out of line.
Union spokesman Jeremy Noelle declared himself "sick to my stomach" that Quinn signed the legislation, asserting that "there is absolutely no reason why the governor needed to strip 3,000 union members of their status."
No one is being stripped of anything. The law sets a ceiling of 1,900 employees who might be affected. Those who wish to remain union members may transfer to a new position.
The notion that this bill is anti-union is contradicted by the fact that it was passed by the union-friendly General Assembly. Co-sponsors of the legislation are Democratic Senate President John Cullerton and House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie. House Speaker Michael Madigan voted in favor.
Unfortunately, the record of local legislators on the issue is mixed.
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson voted no while former Republican state Reps. Chapin Rose and Jason Barickman voted yes and no, respectively. In the Senate, Democratic state Sen. Michael Frerichs voted no while Republican state Sen. Dale Righter voted yes.
Those "no" votes were ill-advised. There is no question that AFSCME is angry that it will lose some members and the dues they pay. But unions aren't always right, and it's too bad even a minority of members of the House and Senate were willing to allow an unacceptable status quo to continue.
A reasonable balance between union and management is fundamental to the sound operation of any unionized work place. The bill Quinn signed will help achieve that goal.