* A unanimous decision from the Fifth District Appellate Court…
The petitioner, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 (AFSCME), appeals a decision of the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB) dismissing its unfair labor charge against the State of Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS). The charge challenged a policy requiring employees to pay the entire cost of their health insurance premiums for any pay period during which they go on strike, even if they are not on strike for the entire pay period. The charge was dismissed without a hearing. AFSCME argues that the ILRB abused its discretion because AFSCME presented sufficient evidence to warrant a hearing on its claims that (1) the policy was a unilateral change to a term of employment instituted at a time when the parties were in negotiations for a new contract and (2) the policy improperly threatened to penalize employees for lawfully exercising their right to strike. […]
In June 2015, while the parties were in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, CMS posted a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on its website. One of the questions concerned the payment of health insurance premiums for employees who go on strike. […]
Q. Will striking employees still receive health insurance?
A. Yes, but striking employees will be responsible for the full cost of their health insurance, including the amount normally contributed by the State on behalf of the employee. If striking employees miss any day during the pay period due to being on strike, they will be sent a bill for the full cost of their coverage. […]
AFSCME argued that the policy discriminates against employees for going on strike, an activity protected under the Labor Relations Act, because it treats striking employees differently from other employees who go on unpaid leave. […]
CMS noted that an employer is not required to subsidize a strike… CMS argued that the policy concerning health insurance premiums was no different from the policy concerning wages. Finally, CMS argued that the policy expressed in the FAQ was not a new policy and therefore did not change a term or condition of employment during contract negotiations. […]
In this case, there is no dispute that health insurance is a term of employment that is covered under the parties’ collective bargaining agreements. The question is whether the policy described in the FAQ represents a change in policy that occurred during contract negotiations… (T)he documentary evidence available does not conclusively answer the salient question. […]
We next consider AFSCME’s argument that the policy acts as a threat to dissuade employees from striking. AFSCME argues that the ILRB ignored recognized principles of law in concluding that the policy was not coercive and dismissing the claim. We agree. […]
The issue in this case is the denial of a benefit before and after a strike. […]
In short, the ILRB overlooked the distinction between informing employees that a benefit will be lawfully withheld during a strike and threatening to unlawfully withhold a benefit from employees before and after a strike. We find that by ignoring this distinction, the ILRB ignored a recognized principle of law. […]
(W)e reverse the order of the ILRB dismissing the unfair labor charge without a hearing, and we remand for further proceedings
* From AFSCME…
We’ve always said that state workers shouldn’t have to strike in order to achieve a fair contract. But this ruling makes clear that in that eventuality, the Rauner administration can’t violate the law and intimidate employees from freely exercising their rights.
I’ve asked the Rauner administration for a response.