Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., Nov. 30, Dec. 1 or 2
After all, unions can use “corporate campaigns” to gain community support, and ultimately they rely on the strength of their members.
Years ago, when I worked for The Newspaper Guild (now the News Guild), International Vice President Dave Mulcahy stressed to activists that successful bargaining wasn’t about persuasion at the bargaining table but power from the rank and file. The late Mulcahy – a staunch Republican as well as a union man, heading up the solid Standard & Poor’s unit in New York – would have laughed in the face of Illinois’ Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner (and the 21st century version of the GOP).
Rauner’s office on Nov. 18 announced it had reached agreement on new four-year contracts with 11 more labor unions representing about 500 state workers, a clumsy move that followed his previously noting that his administration reached deals with 17 bargaining units representing about 5,000 state employees, including units of the Teamsters and a small Chicago unit of the Service Employees (SEIU).
The first-term Republican wasn’t praising collective bargaining, but criticizing Illinois’ largest state employee union, Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) for refusing to agree to his demands after months of negotiations.
Rauner apparently hopes that everyday Illinoisans won’t appreciate the difference between different unions’ levels of power or different issues, from health insurance to their very existence.
His tactic isn’t just comparing apples and oranges. It’s comparing apples and orchards.
“These developments stand in stark contrast to the ongoing negotiations with AFSCME Council 31,” Rauner’s administration said in a prepared statement. “Despite being offered substantially the same material terms as the Teamsters and the trades, AFSCME has to date rejected the governor’s chief proposals.
“AFSCME is now on the opposite side of these negotiations from their own colleagues in organized labor,” the statement continued. “AFSCME continues to reject many of the same, reasonable proposals being ratified by wide margins by their fellow state employees.”
AFSCME represents about 35,000 state workers, meaning that those 500 workers whose unions have now agreed to terms are 1.4 percent of that number.
Implying that he’s set a “pattern” for other unions to follow – a technique used by labor and management alike, from my Newspaper Guild unit once faced with accepting an inferior deal OK’d by a Teamsters unit to the United Auto Workers achieving a good contract with one automaker and taking that to the others – Rauner seems to expect Illinoisans to illogically extrapolate. It’d be like the St. Louis Cardinals signing weak-hitting shortstop Pete Kozma or the Cubs signing feeble pitcher James Russell to a lousy contract and demanding their All-Stars to go along with comparable agreements.
“Because (trade unions) have independent health plans, their members have the option not to take state health insurance,” said Anders Lindall with AFSCME, which has rejected a four-year wage freeze, an increase in the work week, and huge health-insurance concessions accepted by other unions. “Our union negotiates the health plan covering state and university employees and retirees, and bargains wage schedules for more than 500 job titles.”
Further, Rauner still hasn’t reached agreements with six other unions representing tens of thousands of other state employees and home care workers: the Fraternal Order of Police, Police Benevolent and Protective Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Nurses Association, and SEIU Healthcare Illinois.
SEIU Healthcare Illinois president Keith Kelleher commented, “While we are happy for our sisters and brothers at SEIU Local 1, the fact remains that the state’s largest bargaining units, the 52,000 low-income Illinois home health-care and child-care workers of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, continue to work without a contract.
“Our contracts expired June 30,” Kelleher continued. “At the bargaining table, Gov. Rauner has sought to strip the lowest-paid workforce in the state of health insurance and training, along with other demands meant to diminish if not outright eliminate the workplace voice of these vital workers. He also is demanding a wage freeze for workers earning poverty-level wages. Already, he has stopped payments to the health-care funds for our workers, raising immediate threats of misery and economic hardship on a large scale.”
Kelleher added that the administration “presses extreme demands that would totally destabilize this workforce.”
[PICTURED: Graphic from San Diego Free Press.]