Think tank: Further talks between state, AFSCME would be waste of time
The state's largest public employee union is calling for Gov. Bruce Rauner to continue negotiating after talks were declared to be at an impasse earlier this month, but further talks with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) would be pointless, an attorney for a Chicago-based think tank said recently.
The hundreds of proposals offered up and rejected over months of negotiating, along with actions by union officials, indicate the hopelessness of further negotiation, Illinois Policy Institute Staff Attorney Mailee Smith said during a recent edition of the radio show "Illinois Rising."
"So we've had all of two years of bargaining, and these are the longest negotiations that have ever happened between the state and AFSCME," Smith said. "We're still not anywhere close to an agreement."
It hasn't been an easy process to follow, Austin Berg, a writer for the Illinois Policy Institute, said during the same radio show.
"I think it's easy for peoples' eyes to glaze over in this minotaur's labyrinth of appeals, hearings and different boards appointed by different people and different acts coming from different sides," Berg said "But I think the main point is that if Rauner is able to implement this contract as this board basically says he could, that would be -- I'm interested to hear what you would think -- maybe the biggest taxpayer victory in Illinois in 20 years, 25 years."
Smith and Berg made their comments to Illinois Rising Host Dan Proft, co-founder with Pat Hughes of the Illinois Opportunity Project. Proft also is the Liberty Principles PAC chairman and treasurer, as well as a senior fellow at the Chicago-based conservative think tank Illinois Policy Institute. Chicago Rising is a presentation of the Illinois Policy Institute.
The impasse in contract talks between Rauner's administration and the AFSCME was announced recently by the state's Labor Relations Board after a 5-0 vote.
"And that is a meaningful decision because it provides the opportunity for Gov. Rauner to reassert the last best final offer he has given to AFSCME and to say, 'take it or leave it,'" Proft said during the radio broadcast. "This, while AFSCME can pursue an appeal of the Labor Relations Board."
The board’s ruling overturned an administrative law judge's ruling in early September that said the Governor's Office should be allowed to impose its terms on some issues, but that the Rauner and the union are not that far apart on other issues. The board's ruling effectively halted negotiation on all issues.
Once the Labor Relations Board's announcement was made, two scenarios became more likely: Rauner could impose his terms, which he said could save the state $3 billion, and the union could call for its 38,000 Illinois members to strike.
Rauner's terms also call for a four-year wage freeze.
"The governor is trying to force state workers to accept his unfair terms or go out on strike," AFSCME Executive D
irector Roberta Lynch said in a prepared statement. "Rauner's path of conflict and confrontation is unfair to workers and wrong for the people of Illinois."
Berg said, during his Illinois Rising comments, that AFSCME members in Illinois have been protected for years.
"Symbolically, you have a government employee union that has been protected from all the effects of a normal economy over the last 10 years," Berg said. "Their salaries have grown five times faster than the average private-sector worker in Illinois. Just showing that union that they need to be accountable just like everybody else, I think, is huge."
The present situation is the result of a back story of previous Illinois governors who forged agreements with AFSCME, Smith said.
"We've never been in this position between the state and AFSCME, basically because we've always had governors who've kowtowed to AFSCME's demands and just caved," Smith said. "So we're at a new position; we've never seen this happen."