* Let’s take a look at a couple of stories about what happened at yesterday’s Illinois Labor Relations Board hearing on whether the contract talks between AFSCME and the Rauner administration are at an impasse…
An attorney for the state, Tom Bradley, said the administration had indeed bargained in good faith during 24 bargaining sessions stretching over 67 days. He pointed to tentative agreements that were reached on a number of non-economic issues. Even on economic issues, he said, the state “made many concessions” even though that isn’t a requirement to prove good-faith bargaining.
“The state is not negotiating in a vacuum,” Bradley said. “The state is negotiating under the very heavy weight of the worst financial crisis in the state’s history.”
That crisis, he said, is why the administration wants to freeze wage and step increases for union members as well as extract savings on their health insurance plan. AFSCME has rejected those provisions and has made wage and benefit demands that leave the two sides about $3.3 billion apart, he said. When AFSCME still hadn’t changed its demands in a “substantial” way by Jan. 8, the state sought to have the talks declared at impasse.
“A finding of impasse does not mean negotiations are over,” Bradley said. Instead, an impasse would provide the two sides a cooling-off period, he said.
A cooling-off period? That seems like a unique interpretation.
[AFSCME Council 31 attorney Steve Yokich] accused the Rauner administration of purposely staking out extreme positions to force a lockout or strike. He ripped out pages of the current contract to demonstrate benefits and rights Rauner wanted to cut back or eliminate, including doing away with fees unions can charge nonmembers and abolishing so-called “bumping rights” that shield more senior employees from layoffs.
“We think the evidence will show that the parties were not at impasse the day the state walked away from the bargaining table,” said Yokich, who added the union had questions on numerous proposals such as bonus pay that the administration never addressed.
“The employer never gave us specifics so it’s very hard for us to make counterproposals to move the ball forward,” Yokich said. “I think they came to the table with a predetermined resolve not to budge from their proposal.”
Yokich also questioned the relevancy of the state’s budget crisis in the administration’s position, saying it amounts to a “self-inflicted wound” after the 2015 rollback of an income tax increase that blew a $4 billion hole in the state budget. Rauner campaigned on letting the tax start to expire, though he has said he is open to a tax increase if combined with his business-friendly, union-weakening political agenda.
They’re making the same basic argument as the CTU - essentially that the state is “broke on purpose.” But I think they have a better argument here than the CTU.