The Herald and Review has managed to get ahold of a new bulletin from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, to its members. This new message indicates that the union is getting closer to calling for a strike, and gives the union’s rationale for a walkout, revealing some very useful facts on the state of bargaining:
- The timing of a strike is still hazy, but the message indicates that AFSCME is likely to ask for a strike authorization vote “in the coming weeks.” This would be the first time that the union has given a timeframe for any of the actions that would lead to a strike.
- The union claims that the Quinn administration is holding firm to its calls for a hard wage freeze – no change to the salary schedule and no step increases – for the duration of the contract, along with significant increases to health insurance premiums and deductibles.
- The bulletin refers to collective bargaining sessions held Feb. 6 through 8, which the public was not invited to or even informed of. The bulletin also discloses that another bargaining session is scheduled for Feb. 25.
But the bulletin is clearly designed to rationalize a strike. The appeal is as much emotional as it is factual:
- Among the issues that the union highlights is “massive increases in retiree health care costs.” These are actually not a proper subject of collective bargaining; state law allows for the executive branch to determine retiree health care premiums on its own. But AFSCME has managed to force this onto the bargaining table anyway.
- The union wants to equate needed changes to wages and benefits with disrespect for state workers, and uses that sense of grievance to justify the hardships that a strike would impose on so many Illinoisans: “… we can’t serve the public if we’re battered and beaten down … We can’t ensure that those we serve are treated with respect if we don’t get the respect we deserve.” In the union’s view, wages and benefits aren’t just economic issues; wage freezes and benefit changes are an insufferable affront to the union’s pride.
- There is no reason to believe that the public or media will be allowed in any future talks. A breakdown in negotiations could cause major disruptions in state government, but the talks themselves remain entirely secret. This is a problem.
With union leadership clearly itching for a work stoppage, the governor is going to need to make a decision pretty soon: does he want to win a strike or doesn’t he? Winning the strike will mean taking tough measures that make liberals, who tend to sympathize with unions and depend on unions for political support, quite uncomfortable. If he is serious about reining in government employee costs, he will need to start making the case to the public for why it should side with him and endure the tribulations of a strike. To fail to do so is to invite defeat.
Whatever the intentions behind Illinois labor law, it is time we recognized its actual effects: a private organization, AFSCME, is in a position to shut down state government unless its demands are satisfied. The law gives them this power. If we want reliable, affordable government services, we will need to take that power away from them.
Paul Kersey is Director of Labor Policy at the Illinois Policy Institute