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, December 1, 2016

Illinois ‘impasse’ unleashing Bruce the Destroyer?

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Nov. 28, 29 or 30, 2016

Hundreds of demonstrators in dozens of Illinois communities including Peoria, Galesburg, Rock Island and Bloomington protested on Nov. 17, when the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees held a “Day of Action,” and when Illinoisans from all walks of life probably wondered whether the state’s largest public-employees union will risk a strike, accept Governor Bruce Rauner’s imposed contract, or count on a Third Way: a court appeal.

While not quite torches-and-pitchforks mobs, scenes were reminiscent of the old horror movies where townspeople rallied against monsters in their midst.

Does the “castle” in Springfield contain one: Bruce the Destroyer?

In a surprise rejection of an Administrative Law Judge’s summer recommendation that Rauner resume bargaining with AFSCME, the Illinois Labor Relations Board Nov. 15 ruled that negotiations are at an “impasse,” a legal distinction permitting employers to force their last offer on unions.

“The governor is trying to force state workers to accept his unfair terms or go out on strike,” AFSCME executive director Roberta Lynch said. “Rauner's path of conflict and confrontation is unfair to workers and wrong for the people of Illinois. The governor should negotiate, not dictate.”

AFSCME says it will appeal the decision in state court, and some unionists see the looming showdown as the 21st century equivalent of Ronald Reagan breaking the air traffic controllers union in the ’80s or the “war on workers” between Illinois labor and a handful of corporations a decade later: A.E. Staley, Archer Daniels Midland, Bridgestone/Firestone, and Caterpillar.

This year started out with the Rauner administration breaking off talks with AFSCME Council 31, representing about 38,000 workers, and Rauner’s team has refused to meet with union negotiators ever since. Instead of bargaining, Rauner asked the Board to give him the power to impose his own terms, including a four-year wage freeze, a subjective “merit-pay” plan, a 100-percent increase in health insurance costs, and the unchecked ability to outsource public services for private profit.

His demands destroyed the semblance of civility, seeking surrender, not give-and-take compromise.

No doubt many also wonder how Rauner’s zeal for privatization will affect services and touch the lives of their communities and families.

AFSCME has never gone on strike and wants to resume negotiations, adding that Rauner can't implement all of his demands anyway since some, like that merit-pay system, would require employees to voluntarily waive their legal rights to have their pay count toward their retirement pensions.

Illinois labor has recognized that the lack of movement or willingness to meet in contract talks is part of Rauner’s obsession with workers’ power, which he’s threatened since before he was even elected. And Rauner’s assertion that he’s settled with other unions neglects to point out that AFSCME has not been offered comparable terms.

Instead, as AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said, the Rauner regime has “sabotaged the collective bargaining process.”

Still, Lindall repeated AFSCME’s consistent position that it doesn’t want a walkout.

“We think that a strike would be harmful to the people of Illinois, and Gov. Rauner's path of chaos and confrontation is not in the public interest,” he added.

A key unresolved issue is sadly familiar: threatening to replace decent, full-time jobs with subcontractors or temps without job security or middle-class benefits. Rauner's negotiators claimed the state would save money, but the union rejected that proposal.

Administrative Law Judge Sarah Kerley in September conceded that the parties seemed to be at a standstill on that issue, but she wrote that this entire bargaining has been “atypical,” adding that room to negotiate remained on issues such as wages and health care (especially since the administration refuses to comply with the law and provide requested information pertinent to supposed health-care cost saving). Kerley also agreed with AFSCME that Rauner sought to make some changes that cannot be imposed unilaterally.

“If the state were able to implement its entire last, best and final offer, the implications and impact would be so enormous that it would be destructive of the collective bargaining process,” Kerley said.

“Bruce the Destroyer” doesn’t care about the collective bargaining process, or state employees, or negotiations (see: Illinois General Assembly), or taxpayers. He’s a wealthy, one-man wrecking crew.

[PICTURED: Progress Illinois editorial cartoon by Chris Britt.]

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