The more you know about the recent contract between the state and Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the less there is to like. While the final contract itself remains out of public view, a description put together by AFSCME for its members reveals troubling details.
It appears that the lax attendance policy is carried over. At least there is no mention of any changes, indicating that state employees will be able to rack up 10 unauthorized absences without any serious or permanent repercussions. Under the “Affirmative Attendance Policy” reached in a side agreement between the state and the union and attached to its earlier master contract, state government employees can be issued “notices of suspension” for skipping work, but are not expected to serve suspensions and do not suffer any loss of pay until the 11th infraction.
The new contract apparently also includes a “me-too” clause, which will complicate negotiations with other state employees. According to AFSCME, if the state reaches a contract with another union representing state government employees, and that contract has more generous terms either on wage increases or health insurance, the state will be obligated to give the same terms to its AFSCME-represented staff.
Depending on how this section is worded, the new contract could tie the governor’s hands in negotiations with other unions. For instance the governor might want to offer another union more generous pay raises in exchange for lower-cost health insurance. If he did, AFSCME could file a grievance to enforce the “me-too” clause, and the state would have to match the pay raises; but it is not clear that the state would be allowed to apply health insurance changes. State employees who are represented by AFSCME could wind up with the best of both deals.
What happens during collective bargaining has serious consequences – unfortunately, taxpayers aren’t able to have a voice during these closed-door negotiations. This AFSCME contract will do much to determine the cost of government, but the meaning of important provisions dealing with retirement costs is still unclear. With so much at stake the public deserves a full, detailed description of what the governor and AFSCME agreed to, and a chance to make their voices heard before the state signs the dotted line.
Paul Kersey is Director of Labor Policy at the Illinois Policy Institute