CHICAGO – The state has entered unfamiliar territory after an administrative law judge determined Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the largest state employee union have reached a partial impasse in contract negotiations, said an attorney who focuses on labor relations for the Illinois Policy Institute.
“We’re in a position that we’ve never been in before in the state,” Mailee Smith, a staff attorney with the Illinois Policy Institute, told the Cook County Record. Previous administrations regularly gave the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees what it asked for in new contracts, she added.
“We have a governor and administration who is seeking to place taxpayers as a priority in these negotiations," said Smith.
AFSCME Council 31 represents more than 35,000 state workers. Its last contract expired June 2015. They’ve continued to work after committing to continue bargaining in good faith until they agree to a contract or reach an impasse.
In January, Rauner asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to determine if the two parties are at an impasse — a technical term that allows the governor to enact his last, best offer to the unions. Administrative Law Judge Sarah Kerley took up the issue earlier this year and released her decision Sept. 2.
Kerley determined the parties are at an impasse on issues that include mandatory overtime and vacation, holiday scheduling, and leaves of absence, but not yet on wages and health insurance.
Following the ruling, AFSCME issued a statement declaring it believed the decision upheld much of the union's position.
“We are pleased that today’s recommendation underlines what AFSCME has been saying all along,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “There is no impasse on key issues, and the parties should get back to the bargaining table to resolve them.”
Smith, however, said the decision contained several bright spots for the governor, including leaving room for the labor relations board to go all the way in concluding the parties are at a total impasse. Additionally, she said the judge’s comments indicated the state has continued to bargain in good faith, trying to reach an agreement that benefits taxpayers, who will the bear the weight of increased costs associated with the union’s demands. Meanwhile, the union has demonstrated that it’s “entrenched” in its position and unwilling to compromise on core elements of the contract.
“There’s a $3 billion difference between what the governor is offering and what AFSCME is demanding,” Smith said. “In a number of places in the (judge’s) recommended order, she noted that AFSCME’s remedy is to raise taxes.”
Smith said several provisions of the contract AFSCME proposed would be unheard of in the private sector. For example, workers face no repercussions for unauthorized absences until the 11th incident. Additionally, hourly employees aren’t docked pay when they’re late to work.
“(Kerley) gave taxpayers a partial victory in recommending that the negotiations are at a partial impasse. That means the governor can implement his last offer on a number of provisions that could save taxpayers money,” Smith said.
Even if Kerley had concluded the parties were at a total impasse, the matter was expected to go to the relations board, she added. There are a series of steps either party can take to appeal decisions.
“This is a very long process. We’re in for a long haul at this point,” Smith said. “No matter who wins or loses at these stages, there’s another step.”