One more step toward a strike

One more step toward a strike

Thousands of state public employees say they're ready to walk out.

It's looking more and more like the irresistible force has met the immovable object.

What's next? It's impossible to predict with certitude, but the chances of a first-ever strike by state employees are growing ever larger.

Last week, AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch announced that union members voted by an overwhelming margin to authorize their negotiators to call a strike if management does not return to the bargaining table.

"We're going to continue to think that at some point this governor will realize that conflict, confrontation is not the way to move the state forward. We're going to keep working every way we can to convince him to return to the bargaining table and make a good-faith effort to resolve the situation," Lynch said.

But judging from Gov. Bruce Rauner's response to Lynch's invitation to resume negotiations, that's not going to happen.

"The labor board unanimously said we're at impasse. We've been at impasse. Negotiations are done. Those days are gone," he said.

Rauner is certainly correct about that. AFSCME and administration negotiators held 67 bargaining sessions, the longest in the parties' history, and still were $3 billion apart. Because management said AFSCME showed "no sign of movement," it asked the state's labor board to declare an impasse, a decision allowing management to unilaterally impose its last, best and final offer.

After a long review process, the labor board agreed the parties had reached an impasse, setting the stage for the current showdown.

AFSCME has gone to court to challenge the labor board's decision and obtained a court-ordered stay barring implementation of the new, four-year contract.

It's also flexing its political muscles, pressuring management with the threat of a walkout by roughly 28,000 strike-eligible members.

News reports indicated that AFSCME members voted by an 80 percent to 20 percent margin to authorize the strike. Lynch said about 80 percent of the eligible members voted, roughly 18,000.

The big question is, in the event of a strike, how many will refuse to work? If too many cross picket lines, the strike's effect would be blunted. Management also has indicated it intends to continue operations as best it can and is willing to hire replacement workers.

As she has in the past, Lynch castigated Rauner. She stated, "We have come to this juncture for one reason only: the refusal of Gov. Rauner to negotiate with the union."

That's not quite right. Rauner has negotiated at length with AFSCME and concluded new contract agreements with 20 other unions representing state employees. What he has not done is deviate from his position that the state has no money to give and that AFSCME members must pay more for their health insurance. That position, so far, has been a nonstarter for AFSCME as well as a source of growing anger and frustration.

"The vote to authorize a strike is an attack on our state's hardworking taxpayers and all those who rely on critical services provided everyday. It is a direct result of AFSCME leadership's ongoing misinformation campaign about our proposal," said Dennis Murashko, counsel to the governor's office.

There no question that AFSCME members have few reasons to be happy with the contract proposal. It calls for a four-year wage freeze and increased health insurance payments. AFSCME also would have to give up its current 37.5-hour work week. Despite that, management argues that AFSCME members are "among the best-paid in the nation."

But this dispute is way past the talking stage. Now it's a power struggle. AFSCME members will have to decide if they're willing to take the huge risks associated with going out on strike and trying to force management to buckle. For its part, management has indicated it won't bend and can stand the pressure of a strike.

Nothing is going to happen right away. But threat of a strike is real, just one highlight of the many problems caused by Illinois' desperate financial condition.

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catsrule wrote on February 27, 2017 at 11:02 am

Governor Rauner removed a contractual requirement honored by prior Republican and Democrat governors requiring proof of cost effectiveness prior to outsourcing work being performed by State employees. Rauner wants to be able to outsource work currently being performed by public employees and charge taxpayers more in exchange for less service. This was the source of impasse given by the ILRB, not the other aspects that that the News-Gazette and the billionaire funded Illinois Policy Institute like to reference when attempting to demonize public sector workers . Where is the outrage from members of the Illinois General Assembly or for that matter, editorial writers for the News-Gazette?

catsrule wrote on February 27, 2017 at 12:02 pm

"Rauner has negotiated at length with AFSCME and concluded new contract agreements with 20 other unions". Another faulty attempt by the News-Gazette editorial board to portray Rauner as reasonable. The agreements reached with the other unions, representing less than 10 percent of the State workforce, are not even close to what is being offered to AFSCME. AFSCME has offered to agree to an unprecedented 4 year wage freeze and to pay more for health insurance. Rauner is making a choice to not continue negotiations and the changes to the outsourcing requirements demonstrate he has not bargained in good faith thus far.