The Rauner administration is seeking a determination from the state's Labor Relations Board on whether contract talks with AFSCME Council 31 are at an impasse.
"Last week, AFSCME refused to seriously negotiate for the 24th bargaining session in a row on any of the core contract proposals presented by the Rauner Administration," the administration said in a news release Friday announcing its request for a Labor Relations Board ruling.
"At the bargaining table, AFSCME made clear that they are unwilling to negotiate any contract similar to the ones agreed to by 17 other labor unions, which in many instances, were ratified by more than 80 percent of union members," the statement adds.
The Labor Relations Board will now determine whether the two sides have hit an impasse in negotiations.
"During this time, the parties must adhere to all statutory obligations regarding good faith negotiations while the labor doard is deciding the case," reads the administration's release. "Quoting from the tolling agreement, this specifically means there can be no 'strike, work stoppage, work slowdown, or lockout' until the labor board has determined that the parties are at an impasse. The governor will comply with these and all other obligations regarding good faith negotiations."
AFSCME's collective bargaining agreement with the state expired June 30.
The union is stressing that talks are not at an impasse.
AFSCME issued a statement Friday, which said in part:
Although we have serious disagreements with the governor's positions, we reject the administration's charge that we have not been "seriously negotiating." The members of AFSCME's rank-and-file elected bargaining committee have consistently responded to the administration's demands with fair counterproposals. We're committed to continuing to do so, and we don't want disruption of the public services we provide. That's why last summer we supported the option of both sides going before an independent arbitrator if our differences couldn't be resolved by bargaining.
Unfortunately, the administration's ongoing campaign of false claims about these negotiations makes compromise that much harder to achieve. Among their many misleading statements, the administration has never offered AFSCME the same terms as other unions. 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. We know of none who agreed to change hours of work or reduce overtime or holiday pay for employees who go above and beyond to serve. In any event, no union can be forced to accept the terms of other unions that have different circumstances and concerns.
The administration claims to want innovation, yet it has rejected our union's proposals to work together to improve inmate rehabilitation programs in state prisons, rejected our proposals to ensure nondiscrimination in the hiring of women and minorities, and rejected our proposals for labor-management collaboration to improve public services.
Governor Rauner is wrong to walk away and try to end negotiations. Public-service workers who keep us safe, protect kids, respond to emergencies and care for the most vulnerable want to keep serving their communities, and they want to do their part to reach a fair agreement, but we can't do it alone.
Check back with Progress Illinois as this story develops.
UPDATE (11:51 a.m.): The Illinois Federation of Teachers has issued a statement in support of AFSCME.
"Governor Rauner's actions today prove once again that his priority is forced conflict, not progress. The 100,000 workers of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, some of whom are also state employees, are proud to stand with AFSCME as we face a deceptive and irresponsible Governor willing to use middle-class families, the most vulnerable, and our students as a wager in his fanatical game," said IFT President Dan Montgomery. "Make no mistake: this isn't in service of financial savings for the state. This is an ideological obsession unfit for a state leader forcing chaos to enact a reckless and unpopular agenda. Our members go to work each day trying to help others, trying to resolve conflict, trying to educate our children. Governor Rauner could learn a thing or two from them."
UPDATE (3:00 p.m.): Here are some comments that have come in from lawmakers in response to the governor's request for a labor board ruling on whether contract talks with AFSCME have reached an impasse:
Illinois House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang (D-Skokie):
It is extremely disappointing that Governor Rauner has terminated negotiations with AFSCME. Apparently he wants to provoke a confrontation and disruption of state operations. That would mean the loss of vital services relied upon by millions of Illinois residents every day, as well as further instability in the state's business climate.
That is why I and other lawmakers sought to enact a fair process for contract resolution through neutral arbitration last fall. Maintaining public services is critical, and such a process needs to become law.
State Rep. Rob Martwick (D-Chicago):
I am extremely disappointed that Gov. Rauner is using procedural maneuvers in an attempt to force a strike by state workers. This action contradicts his promise to negotiate in good faith. The state workers have negotiated in good faith, have recently offered compromise on wages, health insurance and other important issues. Most importantly the employees have been and continue to be willing to negotiate.
Today, we see Gov. Rauner's true intentions. His rhetoric during his campaign for governor was about forcing a strike, and today it is clear that he's been on this path all along. His agreements with other bargaining units cover a very small portion of state employees. Now, along with his failings as governor to propose a balanced budget and find solutions to our state's financial problems, he is putting Illinois taxpayers at risk of losing access to vital government services, causing more suffering for decent, hard-working families.
State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago):
Today's action by the governor is yet another example of him holding working families hostage to his far right political agenda. By walking away from the bargaining table, he continues to show an unwillingness to compromise.
Public service workers - the people who help keep us safe, provide critical services for our most vulnerable, and respond to emergencies - deserve wages and working conditions that reflect the importance of the work they provide our state. They are often our neighbors, our friends or our family members. Today, Governor Rauner turned his back not just on our public service workers, but our entire state.
I call on the governor to rejoin the bargaining table, negotiate in good faith, and find a solution that is fair to both our state employees and the citizens of Illinois.
UPDATE (4:07 p.m.): SEIU* Healthcare Illinois President Keith Kelleher is also speaking out against Rauner's move to "force" an impasse in labor talks with AFSCME. Kelleher released the following statement:
Gov. Rauner's assault on working families and the middle class continues through his effort to force impasse in contract negotiations with AFSCME, the state workers who provide vital services to residents of Illinois. The 91,000 workers we represent stand in solidarity with AFSCME and all of organized labor in Illinois who find ourselves under attack by this governor.
Like AFSCME, we have for months been in negotiations for our 53,000 state home healthcare and child care providers who are working without a contract. Likewise, we have faced similar hostility and extremism. In our case, Governor Rauner is attempting to destabilize the care-giving safety net in Illinois with demands to destroy health care coverage for more than 10,000 providers; to remove their vital training; to defy new federal guidelines to pay workers the overtime they are owed; and to freeze wages for the lowest-paid workers in the state, many of whom already live in poverty.
What Governor Rauner has done to AFSCME, and what he has demanded at the bargaining table from us, will not fix the state's long-term structural problems and have nothing to do with the budget. We urge Governor Rauner to abandon his political vendetta, to stop using vulnerable people as pawns and to return to negotiations in a spirit of good faith and compromise, characteristics that seem to find no place in his Illinois.
UPDATE (4:28 p.m.): Another group weighing in on the contract issue is Americans for Prosperity, backed by Charles and David Koch.
"AFSCME has shown itself to be wildly out of touch with the financial realities facing the taxpayers who fund their compensation packages, as well as the fiscal calamity facing the state," Americans for Prosperity Illinois State Director David From said in a statement.
A June 2015 study from Americans for Prosperity Foundation, he added, "shows that taxpayers are being asked to fund compensation packages that they themselves are not able to obtain. Yet, AFSCME continues to demand in negotiations that taxpayers pay for continued raises and unaffordable health care plans for its members, while refusing commonsensical reforms like triggering overtime after 40 hours per week rather than 37.5 hours."
"Governor Rauner is right to stand up for the beleaguered Illinois taxpayers," From's statement added. "AFSCME has continually pushed pay and pension packages that have contributed to the fiscal challenges facing the state. Rauner's push for sensible changes and more modest pay increases are necessary and the right thing to do in the interest of taxpayers."
*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.