Some AFSCME members disapprove of union's negotiating tactics
Not all Illinois public employees who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) are gung-ho and in lockstep with the government-worker union's negotiating tactics.
Against the backdrop of the already-embattled General Assembly, where other improprieties are frequently revealed, AFSCME has been engaged in a recent tug-of-war with state leaders over wages and benefits for state workers.
The large nationwide government union met this year with the state in two-dozen bargaining sessions regarding current contract negotiations over 67 days.
With that investment of time and energy, it would be logical to assume that changes were in the works. Yet despite a tangible list of substantial perks already in effect for its members in Illinois, AFSCME insisted on standing its ground regarding its own set of demands that will, if unchanged, end up costing Illinois taxpayers an extra $3 billion over the course of the contract.
Illinois state workers already receive competitive wages, health insurance with lifelong coverage after retirement, and a prized 37.5-hour workweek — not to mention liberal policies when it comes to disciplinary matters.
“Surely, there’s some wiggle room for negotiation, but AFSCME doesn’t want to budge,” Illinois Policy Institute writer Austin Berg said. Berg described the government union as acting like a spoiled child at the sessions and expressed frustration at AFSCME’s strangely disproportionate sphere of influence.
“That’s an absurd framing of the historical power dynamics in Springfield, where AFSCME typically demands and receives whatever it wants with little friction,” Berg said, adding that the sheer magnitude of investment in the negotiation process itself — let alone the fact that little has come of it — is “insulting to Illinoisans.”
At the conclusion of one session, the AFSCME’s lead negotiator was quoted as saying, “I have nothing else to say and am not interested in hearing what you have to say at this point – carry that message back to your principals.”
At one point, Rauner requested that the talks be ruled an impasse to move forward, and the administrative law judge concurred with the stagnation, writing that the government union’s “conduct calls into question its commitment to reaching an agreement through bargaining.”
At that juncture, when Rauner made an effort to offer several points of compromise — such as performance bonuses and bereavement leave — AFSCME responded by filing litigation to block the attempts. Worse, a St. Clair Circuit Court judge even issued a temporary restraining order to prevent Rauner from issuing such changes.
At a certain level, the union's modus operandi is even impacting its own membership. Jim Andersen, a government employee who cares for mentally ill adults in an Anna facility, belongs to AFSCME and is disillusioned by its tactics.
While his co-workers are hoping for a holiday bonus, they also are hearing rumors of a possible strike — which he considers dangerous for his clients, who depend on the trust and motivation of their caretakers.
“I think AFSCME has anything but the health of its members’ (situation0 at heart,” Andersen said. “I’m not one to stick by all these added benefits … because it’s unfair to all the other citizens who pay taxes through the nose so I can sit pretty. I don’t want to be selfish, but here’s a union that wants to hold the state over a barrel.”
The mental health professional, who previously worked in the private sector, can appreciate the perspective of workers in both the public and private sectors. While he believes that most government union members do not want to strike, he did acknowledge that union reps appear to be putting pressure on members — an approach that he was unafraid to label as unreasonable.
“I don’t think that’s fair to us,” Andersen said. “We’re all in this together, and if we don’t act like we’re all in this together, we’ll never get out of it.”