Why It Looks Like A Strike Could Be On The Horizon

May 28, 2015
Illinois State Capitol

Illinois State Capitol

Wikimedia Commons

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's office appears to be preparing in case there's a strike. The state's contract with its largest public employees' union, AFSCME, expires on June 30, when the state's fiscal year ends.

According to a report on the state politics blog Capitol Fax, the governor's office has sent a Contingency Preparation Form to state agencies.

It asks questions like: how many temp workers would be hired, what "major services" will be "consciously discontinued” that lasted two weeks, or four.

Rauner's spokesman ignored repeated inquiries about the origin of the leaked document; instead he said only that "we continue to negotiate in good faith."

The governor was asked in mid-May if state employees should be concerned about layoffs or a strike. "Hopefully not," he said. "We've got to make some big changes. Changes are hard. And there's going to be a lot of resistance to change." Rauner went on to say he wants to be able to pay employees more, based on productivity - not just seniority, "so we're going to have some tough discussions. But I want everybody who works in government to have a great career. I want them to be well compensated. I want them to have a great retirement. But we need a system that's affordable, and also incentives everybody to save taxpayer money because the tax burden on our citizens is too high already."

AFSCME's spokesman says there's never been a strike in the 40 years Illinois has had collective bargaining. But he says after six months of contract negotiations, the two sides remain far apart. The union spokesman went on to call the Contingency Preparation Form a "troubling sign" that Rauner's pushing for a confrontation that'd disrupt important state services.

Collective bargaining talks are done in secret, and its typical for both sides to stay mum about their progress. AFSCME's current contract ends June 30, at the end of Illinois' fiscal year.

The State Journal Register newspaper earlier this month reported that the Rauner administration is asking AFSCME members to accept a freeze on wages, reduced vacation time, and to pay more for health insurance. The article cited an AFSCME bulletin it had obtained that read the governor's negotiators' "lengthy list" of proposals amount to a "massive assault on the standard of living of every state employee."

About 38,000 state employees are AFSCME members. The prospect of their striking under a Rauner administration is something he himself brought up while campaigning.

In a video from a March 2013 Cumberland County Lincoln Day event, a Republican audience applauded the notion.

"I may have to ... take a strike and shut the government down for a few weeks ... that's a possibility," he said. "I don't know many politicians who would be willing to do that. I won't be happy doing it, but I will do it proudly because it's the right thing to do."

A lot has changed since then; Rauner won the primary and stopped talking about unions. Then he won office; shortly thereafter, unions again became a focus in campaign-style speeches across the state. While both the governor and AFSCME say they hope to avoid a strike or lockout, it seems both are preparing for that possibility.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio