AFSCME strike authorization vote addressed at county board of commissioners meeting

A potential work stoppage by state employees was addressed at last week’s regular meeting of the Union County Board of Commissioners.

The meeting was Friday morning at the Union County Courthouse in Jonesboro.

On Feb. 23, in the first strike authorization vote in Illinois state government, an 81 percent majority of the members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME, Council 31 have voted to give their union bargaining committee the authority to call a strike.

Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna and the Illinois Veterans Home in Anna could be among the facilities impacted by a work stoppage.

The strike authorization vote came after Gov. Bruce Rauner broke off negotiations with the union more than a year ago and has refused to even meet with the AFSCME bargaining committee ever since.

The Rauner Administration called the move an “attack” on Illinois taxpayers.

AFSCME Council 31 executive director Roberta Lynch said in a news release that: “We have come to this juncture for one reason only: The refusal of Governor Rauner to negotiate with our union.” 

The news release, which was posted on AFSCME Council 31’s website, continued by stating: “Instead of working toward compromise, Governor Rauner has been seeking the power to unilaterally impose his own extreme demands, including a 100 percent hike in employee costs for health care that would take $10,000 out of the pocket of the average state worker, a four-year wage freeze and an end to safeguards against irresponsible privatization.

“Bruce Rauner may think he can dictate, not negotiate, but this vote shows that AFSCME members are determined to stand up for basic fairness,” Lynch said.

The news release further stated that “AFSCME Council 31 represents some 38,000 Illinois state employees who protect children, care for veterans and the disabled, respond to emergencies, help struggling families and much more.”

The vote to authorize the union bargaining committee to call a strike does not necessarily mean that there will be a strike.

 The bargaining committee will meet in the coming days to chart its path, and pending litigation could also play a role.

“State workers don’t want to strike. We are keenly aware of the importance of the public services we provide, and we are willing to compromise,” Lynch said. 

“But if Governor Rauner continues to refuse his legal obligation to bargain in good faith, he risks a strike that would shut down state government, and he alone bears responsibility for the harm a strike would cause.”

Rauner Administration’s Response

The Rauner Administration responded to AFSCME’s strike authorization vote with a statement from general counsel Dennis Murashko:

“The vote to authorize a strike is an attack on our state’s hardworking taxpayers and all those who rely on critical services provided everyday. It is a direct result of AFSCME leadership’s ongoing misinformation campaign about our proposal. “AFSCME leaders would rather strike than work 40 hours a week before earning overtime. They want to earn overtime after working just 37.5 hours per week.

“AFSCME leaders would rather strike than allow volunteers like Boy Scout troops to lend a helping hand inside government. They want to ban the use of volunteers.

“AFSCME leaders would rather strike than allow state employees to be paid based on merit. They want to stick to paying people based on seniority, regardless of whether they’re doing a good job.

“And while hard working families across the state face skyrocketing health insurance premiums, AFSCME leaders want to strike to force higher taxes to subsidize their health care plans that are far more generous than taxpayers have.

“Put simply, AFSCME leaders will do or say anything to avoid implementing a contract that is fair to both taxpayers and state employees alike.

“If AFSCME chooses to strike, we will use every resource to ensure services continue to be available to the people of Illinois. We continue to encourage AFSCME to work with us in implementing a contract that is similar to those ratified by 20 other unions.”

County Board Meeting

The possibility of a strike by AFSCME was raised during the public comment period at last Friday morning’s meeting of the Union County Board of Commissioners.

An opportunity for public comment is offered at each of the county board’s regular meetings.

A comment about the possible strike was shared by Debbie Nash, a Union County resident who attends many of the county board meetings. Nash is secretary of AFSCME Retirees Subchapter 90.

Nash said that if the governor does not come back to the bargaining table, “there will be a strike.” Such a move, she said, would result in “considerable upheaval.”

Board of commissioners chairman Bobby Toler Jr. said that a strike could be economically devastating. “Hopefully, it will be resolved,” he said.

County commissioner Dale Russell said a strike would be detrimental. “We don’t need it,” he said.

The Gazette-Democrat

112 Lafayette St.
Anna, Illinois 62906
Office Number: (618) 833-2158

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