Illinois voters elected Bruce Rauner knowing full well his stance on organized labor and with the expectation he would negotiate with the state’s labor unions.
A legislative proposal vetoed by the governor in July and now up for an override vote would take that power out of the governor’s hands and into those of an arbitrator.
It would be a mistake.
The legislative proposal, Senate Bill 1229, would provide for a panel of three arbitrators to consider the proposals put forward by the union and the state. They could choose elements of either, but could not modify them to forge a compromise. The legislation is targeted specifically at Rauner, applying only to contracts that expired June 30 of this year.
The legislation passed in the Illinois House, 67-25, with local Reps. Steven Andersson, R-Geneva; David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills; and Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake; opposing the measure. Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo; did not vote, and Rep. Barb Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, had an excused absence. In the state Senate, the bill passed, 38-17. Sens. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry; Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington; and Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles; opposed the measure.
The major union representing state employees in Illinois is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. In Illinois, almost 40,000 state workers are represented by AFSCME.
Its negotiators are seeking an 11.5 percent pay increase for employees over a new four-year contract. Rauner said AFSCME’s contract proposal would cost the state $1.6 billion in salary and pension expenses and eliminate $500 million in health care savings. The administration said the union also wants five weeks of vacation time, a 37.5-hour workweek and more expensive health benefits.
Rauner, citing the disastrous condition of Illinois finances, wants the workers to agree to a four-year pay freeze.
It’s clear the threat of a strike is on the mind of Rauner; his team has been working on contingency plans in the event of a strike, which the sides have agreed will not happen between now and the end of September.
But why would we want to take the power to negotiate out of the hands of our elected chief executive and turn it over to an arbitrator who is unelected and accountable to no one? That’s the kind of backroom dealing that got Illinois where it is in the first place.
Rauner, a venture capitalist and multimillionaire making his first foray into public service, was upfront about his desire to reduce union influence and hold the line on labor costs in Illinois in light of the state’s dire financial situation.
Illinois voters elected Rauner overwhelmingly, some of them no doubt in hopes that he would do just that.
We want negotiations between the state and its unions to be both transparent and fair. Those making the decisions should be accountable to the taxpayers whose money they are spending.
Overriding Rauner’s veto of SB 1229 would do the opposite. Our state legislators should let the veto stand.
It is time everyone in Springfield, from lawmakers to state employees, face reality: Illinois is broke, and its people are not willing to pay more until they see serious commitment to changing the broken system that got us here.