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State Employees Stage Rallies, Want Gov. Rauner To Return To Bargaining Table

Now that a state board says there's no point to Gov. Bruce Rauner resuming negotiations with AFSCME, his administration is beginning to impose new terms on members of state government's biggest labor union. AFSCME, however, wants Rauner to return to the bargaining table. State employees across Illinois rallied for their cause Thursday.

In DeKalb, about 40 AFSCME members chanted and waved signs along a busy stretch of Peace Road, while drivers honked in support. Catherine Gardner is an investigator with the Department of Children and Family Services. She says nobody wants to go on strike: that’s why she’s trying to rally public support.

“We’re not greedy state workers who are lazy and have Cadillac pensions and sit around and do nothing.” Gardner said, “We are the ones who go out in the community and provide services for the citizens of Illinois.”

AFSCME members from throughout the region meet in Rockford Thursday night to discuss the union’s next move.

In Springfield, hundreds of workers carrying signs with slogans like "don't dictate, negotiate" marched in front of their offices.

"Two, four, six, eight! Rauner should negotiate!" they shouted.

Rauner doesn't have much incentive to continue negotiations, and he has given no indication he's willing to resume bargaining.

The labor board's ruling means Rauner can impost the last, best offer he made to AFSCME before he declared an impasse.

It's take it or leave it.

AFSCME plans a lawsuit. Outside that, the options are: Strike, or accept longer work days, higher health care premiums, a wage freeze, and the risk of some jobs being contracted out.

"He wants to get rid of our jobs, basically. Because he's so anti-union. Just so anti-union," said Sarah, a state employee who said she was afraid to give her last name for fear of retribution. "And I don't have a problem with no pay raises. I can go with that. The thing I can't go with though is his attitude towards us."

She says she is, however, prepared to go on strike -- a month of which, the Rauner administration warns in a state employee "FAQ" section of its website, would lead to a loss of $8,000 in lost wages and benefits for the average state employee.

But Randy Knight, a department of revenue employee, says he's also prepared to strike if it comes to that.

To me it feels like he's chipping away at the very ... the 40-hour work week. IT just feels like he's trying to degrade the quality of life, the standard of living, trying to raise our prices, lower our benefits. I've heard rumors of: He just wants to sub-contract out a bunch of temporary people for our jobs. And it's absolutely deplorable," Knight said.

Rauner, who appointed a majority of the Illinois State Labor Board's members, says the rulings is good for taxpayers. He claims it will result in $3 billion savings over the next four years.

"The delays on this resolution have been costing Illinois taxpayers almost $2 million a day," he said. "Now we got resolution. That's good. I think it's a resolution that's fair for taxpayers and it's fair for our wonderful state employees - and we have wonderful state employees, I'm an advocate for them. It's ... very much the same deal that we've already had with 18 other unions. This is not like some ... outlying, unusual deal. It's got merit pay. Let's pay people more but do it based on productivity and doing good work. It allows a 4o-hour work week. What a shocking idea. Instead of a work week of 37.5 hours, let's do what everybody else, every taxpayer has to do."

Rauner frequently gives generic praise to the state workforce, and made a point early in his tenure to visit their offices and facilities -- something that hasn't been done by the most recent couple of governors.

But Sarah, the revenue employee, says when Rauner has given pep talks at her building, she thinks: "liar."

The administration has actively given a path for employees to opt out of the union, and is supportive of a court case that would do away with a requirement that workers who don't want to join the union must nonetheless pay what are known as "fair share" dues to support unions' non-political work of negotiating contracts and labor standards.

According to a memo from Rauner's labor relations office, the administration is implementing two new policies, concerning merit pay and overtime wages, "as soon as operationally possible."

State employees who missed less than 5% of their assigned work days (vacation and sick time aren't included) will get a $1,000 bonus as part of the immediate merit pay system. Rauner's office says it will work with AFSCME to develop performance criteria for the future.

As for overtime: AFSCME members will now receive overtime after working 40 hours in a work week, rather than 37.5 hours.

WNIJ's Susan Stephens contributed to this report.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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