Another attempt is being made in the General Assembly to send the stalled contract talks with the largest state employee union to arbitration.
The House Labor and Commerce Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would send the talks to binding arbitration while also prohibiting the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees from striking.
The legislation mirrors a bill passed by the General Assembly last year to do the same thing. Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bill and the House was not able to override the veto. […]
“We are in a unique situation here,” AFSCME deputy director Mike Newman said. “We’ve never heard a public employer boast that if there is a strike, we will win. I don’t know how anybody can define a strike by 10s of thousands of state employees as a victory.”
Sponsoring Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, said the bill marked a “major concession” by unions in giving up their right to strike, and he called on his colleagues to prevent a lockout and government shutdown.
Rauner has asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to determine whether his administration and AFSCME have reached a stage in negotiations that would allow him to bypass further talks and impose his own terms on the roughly 38,000 state workers the union represents.
That review could take months, and Rauner and the union have agreed to keep workers on the job in the meantime. But if Rauner ultimately succeeds in putting a stop to the talks, the union will have to decide whether to go on strike for the first time. […]
In testimony to the committee, Mike Newman, deputy director of AFSCME Council 31, said a governor who has made weakening unions part of his agenda simply wants to force his terms without considering the pain and disruption a strike would cause.
Rep. Welch has a Democratic primary opponent who just received some funding from one of Dan Proft’s groups.
* The Rauner administration response…
Illinois Taxpayers Cannot Afford HB 580
HB580—a second bite at the failed attempt to pass SB1229 last Fall—should not become law. Simply put, our taxpayers cannot afford it.
Over the course of the last year, the State and certain labor unions have engaged in productive, good-faith negotiations. Indeed, the State has signed collective bargaining agreements with seventeen unions represented by, among others, the Teamsters, SEIU, the Laborers’ International Union, and the International Union of Operating Engineers. All seventeen agreed that tightening our belts now is the only responsible approach if we have any hope of avoiding cuts to essential services, massive employee layoffs, continued credit rating downgrades, and the further ballooning of our unfunded pension liabilities, bill backlog, and budget deficits. These unions offered to be a part of the solution.
Not AFSCME, which has continued to insist that the State somehow, somewhere find over $3 billion to give ASFCME employees more money while maintaining luxury health insurance coverage at garage-sale prices. So, after almost a year of unproductive negotiations, the State invoked a procedure to which AFSCME and the State thrice agreed, asking the Labor Board to determine whether the parties are at an impasse. Instead of lobbying for yet another version of the failed legislation from last Fall, AFSCME should defend its proposals before the Labor Board. This is what AFSCME has agreed to do in that very forum, on three separate occasions. If ASFCME believes its actions are reasonable, it should make its case to the Board.
But now that the matter is before the Labor Board, and AFSCME has to actually defend its proposals, AFSCME wants to rewrite the rules. Why is AFSCME afraid of the Labor Board process to which it previously agreed? Why does it want to replace that fair process with an all-or-nothing gamble at taxpayers’ expense that typifies labor arbitration in this State? Arbitrators may not fashion a middle ground that the State can actually afford. Instead, arbitrators must choose either the State’s or the union’s proposal wholesale. What AFSCME is hoping for is that AFSCME’s current proposal—over $3 billion in additional costs—is implemented. AFSCME could never defend such an unreasonable proposal at the negotiating table. And AFSCME is afraid it cannot defend it before the Labor Board. And thus the arbitration gamble becomes very attractive for AFSCME, no matter how unaffordable it is to our taxpayers.
Worse still, courts in Illinois have been recently upholding arbitration awards even in the absence of appropriations. The General Assembly would thus be bound by arbitration resulting from HB580, making balancing the State’s budget that much more difficult.
If HB580 becomes law, the General Assembly would effectively cede major financial decisions to unelected, unaccountable arbitrators. AFSCME is gambling for a big payday in arbitration. But it is the General Assembly that will have the difficult job of finding the money to pay for AFSCME’s jackpot, likely at the expense of cutting essential services in the State, imposing employee layoffs, or other drastic measures.
We cannot afford HB580.