In the latest move in the ongoing battle between Illinois state union workers and Gov. Bruce Rauner, a state appeals court has refused the governor’s request to lift a court-ordered stay on the Illinois Labor Relations Board’s finding that the state and its largest union are at an impasse, a move that will impact the ability of Rauner to impose contract terms and of the union to strike.
In a statement released Friday, the American Federation of
State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 hailed the ruling,
saying it hoped the order from the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court in
Springfield would restart stalled negotiations.
“Today’s decision is in the
best interest of all the people of Illinois, both public service workers and
the millions of citizens who rely on their important work,” AFSCME Council 31
Executive Director Roberta Lynch said in the statement. “We strongly urge Gov.
Rauner to join us in the spirit of compromise and return to bargaining in good
faith to reach an agreement that is truly fair to all.”
The governor’s office, however, said in a prepared statement
Rauner was “very disappointed” in the ruling, saying it “prevents our Administration
from implementing common-sense changes in the AFSCME contract.” The statement cited
several examples including requiring employees to work 40 hours before they can
begin earning overtime pay, instead of 37.5; the ability to use volunteers for
certain state services; and “a merit pay system.”
“Our contract framework is fair to the State’s taxpayers and
employees alike and reflects proposals accepted by 20 other unions,” the
governor’s office said in its statement.
In its order, the Fourth District Appellate Court said the
union had demonstrated a likelihood of success in its challenge to the ILRB’s
impasse finding, saying it appeared to have been based on a potentially
arbitrary misapplication of a rule allowing the board to essentially declare an
impasse based on a disagreement over a single element of negotiations between
the union and Rauner’s office.
In this case, the ILRB had declared an impasse on
negotiations over the state’s desire to change language governing the use of
The order noted the ILRB had based its decision on the
governor’s office’s assertion of an impasse, a conclusion AFSCME disputed.
The appeals court said it believed the stay should be left
in place to allow time for the union’s various lawsuits over the impasse
finding to be resolved in court.
If the stay had been lifted, Rauner could have been free to
implement the state’s current offer.
Should the stay have been lifted, and the impasse finding
allowed to stand, the union could have been empowered to strike.
AFSCME announced earlier this month that more than 80
percent of its members had voted to authorize a strike.
Patrick DePoy, an associate attorney with the firm of Franczek
Radelet in Chicago, said such a strike would be historic.
“There’s never been a strike of state workers in Illinois history,
so this would be a first,” DePoy said.
He noted the two sides are at odds over “bread-and-butter
bargaining issues.” But the union can’t simply call a strike, DePoy explained.
"There is a controversy right now as to whether or not
there’s actually a real impasse,” DePoy said. “If state workers went on strike
and the governor challenged that before the Labor Relations Board, the union
could be guilty of an unfair labor relation practice for going on an
If AFSCME does decide to strike and the move is challenged by the governor, the
ILRB could hold the union accountable for failing to continue negotiations and
thus violating labor laws.
“There’s no indication right now that there will actually be a strike,” DePoy said.
“A strike authorization vote can often be used as a negotiating tool to say,
‘Well, our members are ready to strike.’”
Even if AFSCME does call a strike, some employees will
remain on the job, specifically those in the public safety sector. Prison
employees, juvenile justice workers, and first responders are all barred from
participating in a strike.
In preparation for a strike, Rauner’s office has created a
website believed to be designed to collect contact information for workers to
potentially replace striking employees and keep other state services running.
"I think this is step one in a multi-step process,” said DePoy, of AFSCME’s
strike authorization vote.