Right-wing GOP gov’s stonewalling forces Illinois state workers to authorize strike

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—More than a year of stonewalling by right wing GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, who demands huge state worker givebacks and who wants to smash their union, forced the biggest union of Illinois’ state workers to authorize a strike.

The 81 percent-19 percent margin for the authorization does not mean the 38,000 workers – everyone from corrections officers to health care workers — represented by AFSCME Council 31 will immediately walk out, union Executive Director Roberta Lynch said.

But the Feb. 22 vote gives the council another weapon in its arsenal to push Rauner back to bargaining. And it comes a week after a judge in St. Clair County (East St. Louis) rejected Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s attempt to – in an effort to break the deadlock – stop state workers’ pay.

“State workers don’t want to strike. We are keenly aware of the importance of the public services we provide, and we are willing to compromise,” Lynch said. “But if Governor Rauner continues to refuse his legal obligation to bargain in good faith, he risks a strike that would shut down state government, and he alone bears responsibility for the harm a strike would cause.”

The strike authorization vote comes more than a year after Rauner walked out of talks with Council 31. He previously tried to jam through his anti-worker anti-union demands – everything from a so-called right to work law to decertification of the union to pay cuts and health care increases – by attaching them to the state budget.

But the Democratic-run Illinois legislature rejected his plan, and he vetoed its alternative budget, leaving the Land of Lincoln without a budget for more than a year – and leaving the union  and its allies, including other state worker unions, to battle Rauner in the courts, but without a strike authorization vote until now.

“We have come to this juncture for one reason only: The refusal of Governor Rauner to negotiate with our union,” Lynch said. She added Rauner seeks “to unilaterally impose his own extreme demands, including a 100 percent hike in employee costs for health care that would take $10,000 out of the pocket of the average state worker, a four-year wage freeze and an end to safeguards against irresponsible privatization.

“Bruce Rauner may think he can dictate, not negotiate, but this vote shows that AFSCME members are determined to stand up for basic fairness,” Lynch said.

“I voted ‘yes’ to authorize a strike because my family needs health care we can afford, because my community needs public services it can rely on, and because Governor Rauner needs to come back to the bargaining table,” Stephen Mittons, a state child protective investigator in Chicago, told Council 31.

“As public service workers we are willing to do our part, but it can’t be Governor Rauner’s way or nothing at all,” added Revenue Department worker Nicole Power of Springfield. “I can’t understand Bruce Rauner’s stubborn refusal to negotiate. He has to be willing to meet us in the middle.”

In winning the pay case in the St. Clair County Court, AFSCME Council 31 and its union allies argued that Rauner prevented Illinois from having a budget. But the state legislature, months ago, agreed to abide by a court order saying the workers must be paid. AFSCME won that order, and in lawmakers “in effect appropriated funds for state employee payroll,” the union argued.

“The judge indicated he did not want to see state government shut down and that the balance of equities in the case favored continuing to pay state employees,” Council 31 said.

When Rauner took office in 2015, he schemed to break the union and trash the workers, through a wide range of moves, including decertification, pension and pay cuts, and empowering governments to pass local right to work laws.  He tried to jam a state RTW law through the legislature, but the state House rejected it, 72-0.

“Through all state government’s chaos of the past two years, the people of Illinois have been able to rely on state workers to be there, providing important public services,” said Lynch after the court ruling. “This decision ensures that that commitment can continue.

“Rauner created this hostage situation by refusing to enact a fully funded budget unless his unrelated demands were enacted first,” Lynch said. “He should put aside those demands and do his job to work toward a budget without preconditions.”

Meanwhile, State Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, filed a bill Feb. 1 “to put a legislative appropriation in place” to pay the state workers. Council 31 backs Scherer’s bill.

“It terrifies me to think what would happen to the elderly, the disabled and our entire community if the state shuts down,” Scherer said. “There are people whose lives literally depend on access to state service, in addition to the thousands of state workers whose families depend on their paychecks to pay the rent and put food on the table.

“We need a budget, not games,” she concluded.

Source: PAI