Local Editorials

Our View: Rauner contract offer generous

AFSCME members across Illinois will begin voting Monday on whether to give their leaders the authority to strike.

We urge them to vote no.

Illinois’ largest state employee union, AFSCME, has been at an impasse with Gov. Bruce Rauner over the terms of a new contract that has been under negotiation since July 2015.

The union that represents 38,000 state workers wants pay increases and other benefits that would cost Illinois taxpayers an additional $3 billion over the life of the four-year contract.

More reasonably, Rauner wants to freeze the salaries of state workers who are the highest paid in the country when adjusted for cost of living. He also wants employees to pay a higher premium toward health benefits but also have more options. Workers currently receive what the Affordable Care Act categorizes as a platinum plan, but they pay a bronze premium rate while taxpayers pick up the rest. Under Rauner’s plan, employees could continue to pay a bronze premium but, like private sector employees, they would receive a bronze plan.

The governor’s offer also includes bonuses for high performers and those who show up to work regularly instead of across-the-board pay hikes that award everyone equally, regardless performance. Rauner wants the state to be able to test employees for drugs or alcohol if there is reasonable suspicion an employee showed up to work under the influence. And he wants overtime pay to kick in after a 40-hour work week instead of the current 37.5 hours.

Rauner and 20 other state unions already have agreed to similar contract terms.

Given Illinois’ fiscal condition – public pensions underfunded by almost $130 billion; a backlog of unpaid bills totaling more than $11 billion; a state budget crisis that has left Illinois’ social service agencies and its most vulnerable residents in peril; a population so overburdened by taxes tens of thousands are fleeing annually – Rauner’s offer is generous.

But AFSCME’s leadership wants more from taxpayers and less accountability for its membership. So it has asked its members for the ability to call a strike. The vote lasts from Monday through Feb. 19. A “yes’ vote doesn’t necessarily mean a strike will happen, but we urge members to vote “no” for the sake of all of Illinois.

We also urge Rauner to hold strong to his contract terms.

For the state to have a chance to get out of its current fiscal mess, it needs to change the way it conducts business. Holding firm on union contracts is one of those necessary changes.

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