A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Rauner seeking to impose last offer on state employees

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Feb. 8, 9 or 10

Gov. Bruce Rauner in recent weeks manipulated the months-long negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME) by declaring an impasse and asking his own Illinois Labor Relations Board to rule that AFSCME committed an Unfair Labor Practice by not bargaining in good faith – letting him impose his terms on 38,000 state workers AFSCME represents.

The move seemed to fulfill a pledge Rauner made two years ago at a Lincoln Day speech he made in Cumberland County, where he said he might “take a strike and shut down the government” to get concessions from public employees.

“The Governor’s asking for an impasse to be declared by the Labor Board is disappointing,” said State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-46th Dist.). “If this is a step to force a last and best offer on state workers, it will add even more chaos to state government.”

There have been 24 formal bargaining sessions considering some 300 proposals over 67 days, said Rauner, who’s been seeking to freeze wages, cut overtime, and hike health-care costs. AFSCME’s last contract expired June 30.

“We reject the claim that the bargaining process is at an impasse,” said AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch. “The members of AFSCME’s rank-and-file-elected bargaining committee have consistently responded to the administration’s demands with fair counterproposals.”

It could be weeks before a decision by the state panel of five people – four of which he appointed, renewed or promoted since taking office last year: Rauner appointed John Samolis and Keith Snyder, reappointed Michael Coli, and promoted member John Hartnett to chair, according to state records.

After the Board rules, the union will have to accept Rauner’s imposed contract or strike.
Rauner’s claim that state workers are overpaid is wrong, according to University of Illinois professor Robert Bruno, whose research shows that Illinois state employees actually earn 13.5 percent less on average than private workers with similar education and experience.

Rauner says AFSCME hasn’t agreed to deals the governor reached with 17 other bargaining units. However, no settlements have been reached with six other unions representing more than 25,000 state employees, including state troopers and child- and home-health-care providers. Further, the accusation is misleading, Lynch said.

“It’s regrettable and damaging to the public interest that the governor has chosen a confrontational path,” she said. “Just as Gov. Rauner is holding the state budget hostage, his ‘my way or no way’ demands of state employees are the obstacle to a fair agreement. Rauner’s demands would force workers and their families [to] pay double to keep their health care. Instead of fairly compensating all workers, he wants to base bonuses on unknown criteria open to political favoritism. And the governor wants to wipe out protections against irresponsible privatization of public services. These are just some of more than 200 extreme demands the administration has made during this process.”

The agreements with other unions were different, she continued.

“The administration has never offered AFSCME the same terms as other unions,” she said. “Some unions received vastly better terms on health insurance than those offered to AFSCME. Many others did not agree to a four-year pay freeze. In any event, no union can be forced to accept the terms of other unions that have different circumstances and concerns.”

As to Rauner’s allegation that the union isn’t negotiating because it won’t agree with him, that’s unlikely, Bruno said.

“I rarely see a situation where the employer is more committed to bargaining than the union,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “Unions want to use their collective bargaining process. They want the process to work; they don’t want something to short-circuit that.”

Lynch said it’s Rauner who’s refusing to bargain.

“Governor Rauner is wrong to walk away and try to end negotiations,” she said.

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