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AFSCME explains reason for possible strike, offers prep tips

Monday, Feb 11, 2013

* Kurt Erickson had the scoop

The state’s largest employee union is urging its members to be prepared for the possibility of a strike.

With the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union at odds with Gov. Pat Quinn over a new bargaining agreement, government workers received a letter this week outlining steps they can take in the event a strike is authorized.

“The most important thing you can do to prepare for a strike is to begin to put some money aside now out of each pay check,” the letter notes. “Do not make any major purchases until the possibility of a strike has passed.” […]

In the letter, AFSCME said it is already working with “key financial institutions” to offer workers short-term loans if needed in the event of a work stoppage.

The union offers other advice as well.

“Schedule any predictable medical appointments right now,” the letter notes. “You may also want to talk with your doctor about lengthening any maintenance drug prescriptions so you don’t have to purchase drugs while on strike.”

* Here’s AFSCME’s memo. Click the images for larger versions…

* Henry Bayer was on Jim Leach’s shows this morning, but the podcast isn’t yet posted.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - anon - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:51 am:

    does AFSCME leadership still collect a paycheck while its employees are on strike? If so, would Henry be so strident in advocating a strike if he and his top managers were going without pay?

  2. - redleg - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:00 am:

    They’re getting serious if tips are offered about borrowing deferred comp. That would be the absolute last resort if I was in that situation.

  3. - Fair Share - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:01 am:

    Why is it that state contracts must go to the lowest responsive and responsible bidder, but state employees must be paid ever more each year? Post the job openning and let all qualified applicants bid for the job - the lowest pay accepted - wins the job.

  4. - cassandra - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:03 am:

    Well, with Quinn clearly in campaign mode given last week’s big speech, maybe AFSCME figures it’s the right time to do a little saber-rattling.

    But if one of the issues is how much state employees have to contribute for their health insurance, i think they are dreaming. You can’t have community rating and guaranteed access without raising prices and I don’t think the proponents of the ACA ever claimed health care would become a bargain under ACA. This is only the beginning of a long period of health care sticker shock, very familiar to those who don’t have insurance, or have only catastrophic policies and who are negotiating the Alice in Wonderland world of health care prices right now.
    Health care is expensive. No reason that state employees should be exempt from the marketplace.

  5. - Happy Returns - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:12 am:

    Also doesn’t mention that you will have to pay income tax on it, since it was drawn from pretax income.

  6. - BMAN - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:23 am:

    The preamble of the Illinois constitution opens with “We, the people” and goes on to say “eliminate poverty and inequality; Assure legal, social, and economic justice.” Does Quinn know that state employees are people too!
    Why shouldn’t employees go on strike, they can’t afford not too.

  7. - Small Town Liberal - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:25 am:

    BMAN - Are there a lot of state workers living in poverty?

  8. - downhereforyears - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:30 am:

    I can see the right to work state bills being introduced as we read.

  9. - Frenchie Mendoza - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:34 am:

    Ironically — and perhaps most tellingly — Quinn’s desire to force cuts on employees is one of the only things he *hasn’t* flip-flopped on during his tenure. He may be wishy-washy with everything else, but he’s dead set on winning this race to the bottom.

    That — more than anything else — speaks volumes about Quinn.

  10. - Skeptic - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:34 am:

    Fair Share: You do realize that “Low Bid” is an often-used euphemism for “Really crappy,” don’t you? And people make jokes about the shoddy quality of “Low bid” projects? And now you’re seriously suggesting that not only the projects, but the people who are responsible for the projects (and everyone associated with them) be “Low bid?” Really?

    And what about you? Do you choose a doctor based only on the price? How about car mechanics? Plumbers? Phone? Cable TV? Grocery stores? I didn’t think so.

  11. - Fair Share - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:41 am:

    Skeptic - how I choose to spend “my” money is my business - when the state is spending “our” money, we should get the lowest “qualified” offer. Under your logic, we should not be awarding anything by low bid, clearly we do and it should be expanded.

  12. - Anon. - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:44 am:

    Helpful hint # 3: Call in every day, so that they know you’re actually gone.

  13. - mythoughtis - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:47 am:

    Fair share

    We don’t do it that way because the accumulated knowledge of long term employees (not political appointees) is invaluable. We don’t need low paid, supposedly qualified (on paper, anyway)people re-inventing the wheel in a large portion of the states work force. Do you really want all the social workers, child neglect caseworkers, correctional officers, IT staff, medical personnel, etc all being new and not at all knowledgable about what actually happens behind the scenes?

    Not every state employee is a janitor or receptionist.

  14. - Anon - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:49 am:

    I suppose you could take out a loan from your deferred compensation, but I don’t see who is going to be there to process that for you until the strike is over.

  15. - AC - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:50 am:

    The Quinn administration is far more likely to get a better deal before the strike than after. I doubt that they are pragmatic enough to figure that out, or care because this has become personal. Any other administration would have gotten the union to agree to a wage freeze, and not pushed for contact language changes over items that are in court. Then they would have ran to the media and bragged about how they were able to accomplish something that no previous administration had.

  16. - Fair Share - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:52 am:

    My Though tis - let’s start with janitors and receptionists, then lets debate who else.

  17. - Sir Reel - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:55 am:

    Everyone is talking about the impact on union employees.

    If there is a strike (which I believe is a long shot), I feel bad for the remaining MC non-hack managers (yes they really exist). They’ve been hard hit (no raises, furlongs, etc.) and would have to handle the increased work load.

  18. - Cassiopeia - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:56 am:

    So what happens if they call a strike and most employees don’t comply and show up for work like they are supposed to do?

    I think the union leaders are in for a stunning rebuke from the state employees.

  19. - wishbone - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:59 am:

    Hire replacement workers if they strike. These positions are no more complex than air traffic controllers and they were replaced. It would help with the pension problem too as the new workers would be under the new pension rules.

  20. - Nuance - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 12:01 pm:

    If you withdraw from deferred comp and you are under 59 1/2 years old then you also have to pay a 10% penalty on top of the normal income tax rates. At least that is true with IRAs and 401-Ks.

  21. - law abiding citizen - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 12:03 pm:

    I’m curious how the state could hire replacements given how long it takes them to approve new hires in the current system. I also pity anyone who agrees to work for the state who isn’t paid up front. Who would agree to work for the state right now without union protection? I’ve been both merit comp and union and I would never work for the state again as merit comp.

  22. - illinifan - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 12:14 pm:

    Sir Reel ….in many places the MC would be just telling people they can’t get anything done so there would be no real work load to discuss…example in an office of 80 people handling over 130,000 public assistance cases there is one MC person. What do you think would happen here? Even if MC staff from the main office is deployed to help, nothing would be done. Not sure what the ratio is at other DHS agencies but this gives an idea of the reality. Naturally if the folks that were in the union are now back as MC staff this would increase the ratio to 10 MC staff to help over 130,000. No way no how.

  23. - RNUG - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 12:15 pm:

    Based on family experiences with the trade unions, everybody will lose if a strike actually happens. The two side’s positions will end up even further hardened. The long it goes on, the worse it will get. This is not going to end well.

    I’ve previously stated my opinion the union state worker doesn’t have a clue what they are getting into with a strike, so I’ll skip over those points.

    I’ve seen strikes that were such economic disasters for the workers that they never regained their losses from being on strike. The only “winners” were the new union people hired after the strike, and even that was questionable. In this cases, where there will be no gains and few new workers, and at best retaining the status quo, the workers will take a big hit in the pocketbook if the strike is lengthy.

    And I’ve seen other strikes that ended up severly crippling the business because of the concessions they had to make to end the strike. A lot of those businesses are not around today; I can’t swear the strikes were the cause because the construction business is a tough one anyway.

    I don’t know how much worse it can get, given the current levels of distrust, but the one thing I am sure of is it WILL be worse even if a strike is quickly settled.

  24. - Happy Returns - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 12:21 pm:

    “So what happens if they call a strike and most employees don’t comply and show up for work like they are supposed to do?”

    they don’t call a strike without the members first voting ‘yes’ on a strike vote. Why would people vote if they weren’t ready to do it?

  25. - Jim Leach - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 12:43 pm:

    Rich, thanks for the link. The Henry Bayer podcast is now posted at

  26. - Sir Reel - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 1:01 pm:

    Illinifan there’s other agencies besides DHS. In my former agency, I suspect the work would limp along. In other agencies, work would largely stop.

  27. - Jeeper - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 1:21 pm:

    Happy Returns: Not all state employees in “union titles” are union members. The members get to vote on a strike (and the new contract, if one is ever negotiated) and the “fair share” employees have no voice though they pay something like 92% of the nominal union dues.

    In the agency I left, union members were a minority of the workforce and many of the non-union people were already openly hostile to the union before any talk of a strike started.

    If the union calls for a strike, I would not bet either way on the employees’ willingness to walk off the job. Read the letter; there is no strike fund, so the employees are in their own in the event of a strike.

    That said, everyone I know at several agencies is angry with Quinn for failing to pay the raises he agreed to last time. Many are angry with the union for endorsing him. Others are REALLY angry with the union for their “well, it would be worse with a Republican governor…” excuse for that endorsement. And, yes, I was actually told that in a meeting with a union rep from the Council rather than the local.

    We’ll see how it falls out.

    A friend of mine was AIW local president for Borden Chemical in Illiopolis when their contract came due. Because the company’s first offer was so “insulting” and against his advice as local president and member of the bargaining committee, a strike was authorized. After a lengthy strike, they went back to work for LESS than the initial offer. They lost twice.

    Oddly, in this case, the state would be better off had Quinn paid Revenue’s raises last time around as they process the state’s taxes and deposit the bulk of the money. There is probably VERY LITTLE good will for will for either Quinn (he shafted Revenue employees on the raise in several ways) or the union (who endorsed him and basically let him shaft them).

    Again, a toss-up. If Revenue employees go on strike, Illinois’ revenue stream chokes down to a trickle but the strikers’ income stream stops for the duration…

  28. - Demoralized - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 1:30 pm:

    ==No reason that state employees should be exempt from the marketplace. ==

    No, they shouldn’t. But it’s also not reasonable to say we are going to more than double what you pay per month. State employees have families to feed just like everyone else and such a large effective pay cut is just not feasible.

  29. - Demoralized - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 1:33 pm:

    @Fair Share:

    The private sector doesn’t even operate as you suggest. The lowest bidder on pay? Give me a break. Do I think the salary schules are screwed up and inconsistent? Sure I do. But you fix that. You don’t have a race to the lowest common denominator by “selling” jobs to the person willing to take the lowest pay. That’s utter nonsense and you know it.

  30. - illinifan - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 1:45 pm:

    Sir Reel agree there are other agencies and their structure is different. I agree in some places it would limp along if there was a strike and not have a significant impact. What the union will count on is with the agencies where the impact is quickly seen and that is with direct services. We have one example coming quick with medical licensing (this caused by layoffs not a strike). If that mess is not resolved soon medical residents won’t get licenses, and doctors will not be able to renew their licenses. This could have a direct impact on medical care and access to care especially in Chicago where there are a lot of teaching hospitals. If there is a strike people won’t be able to renew drivers licenses (and if they don’t have a passport, they won’t be able to fly since they don’t have a current ID), or folks who won’t get medical care or food because these are not issued. So the problem will only be as big as where you sit and what you need done. If you are the hungry person, then it is a problem.

  31. - Skeptic - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 1:58 pm:

    “You don’t have a race to the lowest common denominator by “selling” jobs to the person willing to take the lowest pay. That’s utter nonsense and you know it.” (Sarcasm on) Just think how the economy would soar if your employers made you work 14 hour days, 7 days a week for a pittance, and you had to like it or be out of a job. (Sarcasm off) The world doesn’t work that way any more, and is much better for it.

  32. - Anyone Remember? - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 2:12 pm:

    Cassiopeia -
    Excellent observation. My sense is most employees won’t strike, as they can’t afford the cost of COBRA from Day 1 of the strike (no sick leave / vacation use permitted for health insurance costs if striking).

  33. - cassandra - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 2:13 pm:


    I’d have to understand how CMS got to their health insurance figures as proposed in negotiations. But I am currently keeping an eye on the ACA preparations in another state (far advanced over Illinois, of course) on behalf of a young relative who currently pays for a basic individual policy. His income won’t qualify for a subsidy. From what I can determine so far, his premiums will at least double, although the policy will cover more.

    As I say, sticker shock, coming up fast.

  34. - Liberty_First - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 2:18 pm:

    - Fair Share - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:01 am wrote

    “Why is it that state contracts must go to the lowest responsive and responsible bidder, ”

    yeah right-

  35. - Secret Square - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 2:25 pm:

    “it’s also not reasonable to say we are going to more than double what you pay per month”

    That’s the real problem here. It’s one thing to increase health insurance premiums by a certain amount or percentage every year, say, 10 or 15 or even 20 percent, as private sector employers do. You can prepare for that, but I don’t know how anyone can prepare for a 100 percent increase or more. Does anyone know of ANY major private sector employer that didn’t change the health insurance premiums for many years and then suddenly doubled or tripled them?

  36. - Boat Captain - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 2:58 pm:

    To wishbone-the job I am retired from required two years experience before you could even test for a masters license. And the license was a job requirement. So to say you can just hire replacements not all but some positions have requirements of a license or degree or certificate and in the private sector you would make a higher salary with those degrees or licenses. I could have. I stayed with state employment because of benefits I believed I was to recieve when I did retire.

  37. - Demoralized - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 3:01 pm:


    The proposal is to change it to a percentage of the total premium vs. a flat fee now. I’ve done the calculations. It will more than double the amount, at least in my case.

  38. - Demoralized - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 3:05 pm:


    “yeah right.” Yes, that is right. You may rely on the few contracts you read about in the paper as evidence of some master conspiracy in contracting at the state level but I can tell you with absolute certainty that the contracting process in state government is pretty well locked down as far as awarding a contract to whoever you please. The rules are very strict and the process is very convoluted. I’ve been in the situation before where the lowest bidder wasn’t the best choice but guess what? They got the contract.

  39. - Fair Share - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 3:24 pm:

    Demorilized and Skeptic

    “The world does not work that way, and we are better off for it”

    Better off how? $8 billion in past due bills, $100 billion plus in unfunded liabilities, overburdened tax payers and no will in the legislature to meaningfully cut . If you want to maintain most all the services and subsidies govt provides without taxing everyone out if the state, cutting personnel costs as I have suggested is the fairest and most expeditious way. We are facing a fiscal crisis and extreme but fair measures are in order. Something significant must be done, if you have a better solution, lets here it. And spare me the nibbling around the edges measures that don’t amount to the billions in cuts needed to restore fiscal sensibility.

  40. - ??? - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 3:26 pm:

    I know this is probably a dumb question, but can the union members be forced to strike? I saw the comment about how the union has to vote on whether to strike…if they vote “yes” on a strike, what happens if a union member comes to work anyway? My position is in the union, although I never wanted it to be; I never signed the petitions AFSCME sent me to get it put in the union, but it was unionized anyway, and I didn’t have a choice. Just curious if the same goes for a strike.

  41. - StayFree75 - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 3:59 pm:

    Fair Share, did you know the State could lay off every State employee and would still have a budget deficit?

  42. - Demoralized - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 4:48 pm:

    @Fair Share:

    Personnel costs are only about 10% of the overall general funds budget and you could cut it out completely and still not even solve half of the problem. It’s not the savior you are making it out to be. I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t be part of the equation but opening up jobs to the “lowest bidder” is just silly. Besides, you couldn’t do it if you wanted to. There are about 10,000 personnel rules and I’m sure a few state laws that you would have to change and that ain’t happening. The only solution you are getting out of that area is a wage freeze, maybe some increased healthcare costs being put on employees, and, if hell freezes over, possible a modest increase in pension payments by employees. Or, a mass exodus of employees and new hires being hired in at lower steps on the pay scale. Either way you aren’t going to get a lot of money.

    The only places you are going to get any significant amount of money are the very programs that will go to their grave over before agreeing to cut them. Medicaid. Education. Public Assistance Services. And, yes, Pensions.s

  43. - county chairman - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 6:53 pm:

    the only thing politicians can do to save face is to throw state workers under the bus back in thompsons administration there was a bill passed to fully fund thier pensions the law makers then passed an amendment not to fully fund the pensions they are to blame not us

  44. - IDOC Pawn - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 7:54 pm:

    Sure….. take the lowest bidder. Pay him/her minimum wage for all I care. Watch him/her bring in cigs, cell phones, drugs because of the profit he/she will get for them. Mostly harmless you say? These are tools for gangs to take control of the prisons. It’s already bad enough. If you wouldn’t work in that HIV/Hepatitis infested dump for $10 an hour, don’t expect me to.

  45. - Statie - Tuesday, Feb 12, 13 @ 1:12 am:

    Look at the end of the day when I started the state a lot of people didn’t want the jobs. When the economy go bust now you want to pick on me. I have a 100,000 dollar plus education and don’t get paid that. But I like to serve. The waste comes from the people you vote in office so please stop hating on my brothers and sisters cause at the end of the day with out us the people of Illinois would have a hard time getting services trust me state employees do more than the general public think we do

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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