The Illinois State Senate during a lame duck session passed a bill on January 3 that would bar thousands of state employees from being union members and bargaining collectively.
Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, said that he would sign the bill, which was passed by the state house in 2011, but AFSCME, the largest union of state employees, succeeded in getting the bill’s senate sponsor to file a motion to reconsider the vote. The motion temporarily delays the signing of the bill by Gov. Quinn. AFSCME and members of the Quinn administration will hold talks this week to see if a compromise that protects the rights of those who are already members can be reached.
Those affected by the bill are employees classified as merit-based compensation employees who work for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, and comptroller. They work as public information officers, attorneys, policy and planning employees, mid-level managers, and a host of other positions that provide professional services. Also excluded would be all state agency legislative liaisons.
“The senate’s action is not only an insult to the thousands of workers who have had their union rights taken away, but also should be a reminder that Gov. Quinn and his allies in the legislature have no interest in helping Illinois workers maintain a middle-class way of life,” said AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer.
About 97 percent of all Illinois state employees are union members, and there are a number of petitions seeking union membership by merit-based compensation employees pending before the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
Many merit-based employees sought to join unions in 2009 when then Gov. Rod Blagojevich froze the pay of all non-union state employees. Gov. Quinn also imposed a pay freeze on merit-based compensation employees in 2011.
The bill, SB 1566, could affect as many as 3,500 state employees who joined a union after December 2, 2008 or are seeking union recognition from the state labor board.
The governor would be able to select up to 1,900 current union members whose work is defined in the bill as being ineligible for union membership and declare them non-members. About 1,600 employees whose petitions for union representation are pending before the labor board would be ineligible for union membership.
Gov. Quinn, who AFSCME says has lobbied relentlessly for the passage of SB 1566, argues that many of those affected by the bill are managers and shouldn’t be in unions. But Bayer told the Springfield Journal Register that the union believes that anyone who wants to join a union and bargain collectively should have the right to petition the labor board and that the labor board should be the one to decide whether they can be members of a union.
Gov. Quinn says he supports SB 1566 because the bill gives him more options to deal with budget shortfalls. Illinois’ projected budget shortfall for fiscal year 2013 is $1.8 billion. In 2011, the last time the governor froze merit pay raises, estimates are that the freeze saved the state about $17 million, less than 1 percent of the this year’s projected shortfall.
Bayer said that there’s another more important reason that Gov. Quinn supports SB 1566. “Our fear is the real motivation here is to take positions out of the bargaining unit and exclude positions that they could someday use as patronage,” said Bayer to the State Journal-Register.
Bayer told members that AFSCME would negotiate with the Quinn administration in hopes of reaching a compromise that would at least protect the right to union membership for those who have already joined.
But he said that a fair compromise would require a large mobilization by union members. He urged members to contact their senators and tell them to contact Sen. Harmon and senate leader John Cullerton with the message that their constituents want fair changes to SB 1566.
“This is a bad bill from our point of view,” Bayer said to the State Journal Register. “We hope we can improve on it substantially (through negotiations).”