WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Rauner Vs. AFSCME Escalates; Governor Asks for Impasse

Jan 15, 2016

The rift between Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and the state's public employee union has escalated. Friday morning Rauner announced he's asking the state labor board to decide if negotiations with AFSCME have reached an impasse.

A few days ago in an interview with Illinois Public Radio, Rauner -- a Republican -- said his bargaining team is spinning its wheels.

After roughly one year, and after 67 sessions, he claimed "AFSCME has refused to compromise off of their starting position, which was status quo with major increases in compensation, and other issues."

The union says that's false. It's emblematic of the back-and-forth between the two sides.

Now, Rauner wants the state labor relations board to make it official, and declare an impasse. AFSCME will ask for the opposite; spokesman Anders Lindall has said there isn't one.

"There's room to find common ground if the governor shares our commitment to it," Lindall said Tuesday.

The process could take months.

Three of the board's five members (a majority) were appointed by Rauner, though in a Q&A released by his office, Rauner takes pains to argue that the board is not biased in his favor, given that two of Rauner's appointees were first put there by his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

If the board ultimately sides with the governor, union members would have to accept Rauner's final offer -- one that AFSCME doesn't like -- or move to go on strike.

Rauner's critic like Rep. Rob Martwick, D-Chicago, contend Rauner's "using procedural maneuvers in an attempt to force a strike by workers." Just what that "final offer" (the exact details or copy of which is not public) includes depends on whether you're hearing it described by the administration or AFSCME.

AFSCME contends "Rauner’s demands would force workers and their families pay double to keep their health care—making the Illinois state health plan the nation’s worst for any state workforce—while getting zero wage increase for four years." AFSCME also contends that Rauner's desire to pay based on merit would lead to political pay.

The governor's office says AFSCME's demands would cost $3 billion at a time of fiscal crisis, and say that AFSCME's description of its offerse aren't accurate. Rauner says workers who "silver" healthcare plan that offers less than the current benefit package won't have to pay more; those who want a "platinum level" plan would have to pay more.

In a letter to state employees, 36,000 of whom are represented by AFSCME, Rauner says "AFSCME could simply submit our proposed contract to its members for a vote. I am confident it would be ratified by wide margins."

AFSCME employees have been working under the terms of the previous contract, which expired at the end of June.

Prior to becoming governor, Rauner publicly referred to AFSCME "AFscammy."