Rauner Crushes Prospect of Further Union Negotiations

Gov. Bruce Rauner sits down for an interview with Chicago Tonight political correspondent Paris Schutz on Jan. 4, 2017.Gov. Bruce Rauner sits down for an interview with Chicago Tonight political correspondent Paris Schutz on Jan. 4, 2017.

The fresh, heightened potential of a state employee strike did nothing to sway Gov. Bruce Rauner, who on Friday swiftly dismissed the notion of returning to the bargaining table with public workers’ main union.

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“There are not going to be any more negotiations,” Rauner said after a Black History Month event. “We should implement our new contract. It’s reasonable. It’s fair.”

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 on Thursday announced that its members voted to authorize a strike – a move that doesn’t necessarily trigger a walkout, but which goes further than AFSCME has ever gone before in paving the way for one. The vote gives AFSCME’s bargaining committee the ability to call a strike if it so chooses.

AFSCME under director Roberta Lynch has consistently called for Rauner to re-up negotiations, through save for the pressure of a strike he’s under no obligation to do so: the Illinois State Labor Relations Board unanimously sided with Rauner in saying that the two sides are at impasse—a formal declaration that gives the governor the authority to proceed in implementing his administration’s last, best contract offer.

“We’re going to keep working every way we can to … convince him to return to the bargaining table and make a good faith effort to resolve the situation,” Lynch said Thursday. “I can’t tell you exactly what form that will take. I can only tell you that at this point we’re not ready to say we’ve exhausted every possible recourse.”

“I can only tell you that at this point we’re not ready to say we’ve exhausted every possible recourse.”

–Roberta Lynch, AFSCME

Lynch says AFSCME’s bargaining committee will meet in a week or two to discuss next steps. AFSCME is simultaneously fighting Rauner in court. The union has asked an appellate court to reject the labor relations board’s impasse declaration, and likewise wants a lower court to prevent Rauner from implementing a new contract until the overarching case is settled.

Rauner says his administration has made precautionary plans to ensure that state services will continue if AFSCME does eventually strike.

Though he hasn’t specifically outlined what that entails, it could mean everything from relying on temporary workers, contracted private companies and help from municipal governments.

The governor didn’t have a straight answer when asked in an oblique fashion Friday whether he’d “Patco” striking state employees—an apparent reference to President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 move to fire and ban from future federal government jobs all air-traffic controllers who refused to abandon a strike.

“What I will say is: A strike is not the right thing,” he responded. “We are prepared. We will keep essential government services running. But the right thing to do is implement a new contract.”

AFSCME’s last contract expired in 2015, and the union has been at odds with the Rauner administration ever since.

Rauner frequently touts terms of the contract he’s offering that he says are reasonable:  moving from a 37.5- to a 40-hour workweek, giving merit-based raises and allowing volunteers to do certain jobs currently performed by union workers.

AFSCME highlights other terms of the contract its members oppose:  doubling what employees will pay in health insurance premiums, a wage freeze and a shift to privatized operations.

Union leaders wouldn’t give precise results, but said that roughly 80 percent of the 80 percent of its eligible voting members voted for the strike authorization; that would mean that roughly 36 percent of AFSCME members who could have either didn’t vote, or voted against a strike.

As state workers enter the weekend pondering whether in the future they’ll be faced with choosing to cross a picket line or forgo their paychecks in protest of Rauner, the governor is headed to Washington, D.C. for the Republican Governor’s Association meeting; he reportedly will not, however, attend a bipartisan National Governor’s Association conference.

The governor did not directly respond to questions about whether or not he will meet with President Donald Trump during the trip, or if he will attend any RGA events where Trump will be present.

“I’m going to meet with other governors from around the country to talk about policy,” Rauner said. “There’s a lot of changes going on from the federal level. We’re going to talk about Medicaid. We’re doing to talk about education. We’re going to talk about regulatory relief. More economic growth. Growing more manufacturing in the United States of America. More manufacturing in Illinois. That’s what I’m going to go talk … get policy ideas. And working together as governors to advocate for the good changes so I can help grow the jobs and economy in Illinois.”

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

Related stories:

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Jan. 30: State employees are in the middle of a political war on two fronts, both of which could leave workers broke. Both could also spur action that could end Illinois’ 19-month budget impasse by forcing a shutdown.

What’s Behind State Workers’ Potential Strike?

Jan. 16: There’s no guarantee Illinois government employees will strike, but the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 has taken initial steps toward the unprecedented action.

AFSCME Sets Dates for Strike Vote

Jan. 13: The prolonged standoff between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois’ largest public employees’ union may lead to an unprecedented strike of state government employees.

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