Photo by Lesley Nickus, Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — Talks between Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration and the state’s largest public-sector employee union broke down Friday.
There are no talks scheduled for next week, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and the Rauner team are blaming each other for Friday’s events.
There’s also no agreement on whether the talks are at impasse, which AFSCME says the Rauner team declared.
Rauner’s staff says it did not make such a declaration but it is studying the question.
On its website, AFSCME said the “governor’s representatives said they would refuse to participate in any further bargaining sessions and claimed that negotiations are at an impasse.”
“We are shocked that the Rauner administration would walk away and refuse to continue negotiations,” Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch wrote. “The governor’s rash action invites confrontation and chaos — it is not the path to a fair agreement.”
The Republican governor’s staff says that’s not what happened.
Instead, Rauner’s office says AFSCME negotiators turned down the administration’s offers for additional meetings next week.
“In light of their answers today, we will now decide if the previously-agreed dispute resolution process should be considered,” the administration said in a statement.
But that’s not accurate either, argued AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall.
“No bargaining dates were scheduled for next week,” he wrote on the Capitol Fax blog. “The administration asked very late if we could meet then but our committee was unavailable. Instead AFSCME offered to meet at any time in any of the following three weeks.”
So, it’s not clear just yet whether the two sides are at impasse or if either side is going to ask the Illinois Labor Relations Board to make such a determination, which would be necessary under an agreement between the union and the governor’s office.
A finding of impasse could trigger a direct confrontation between the Rauner administration and AFSCME and raise possibilities including an attempt by the state to impose new contract terms or, perhaps, even a lockout or strike.
AFSCME on Friday said it doesn’t believe the talks are at impasse.
“If they will not return to the table, our union will take legal action,” Lynch wrote. “It is a violation of state labor law for a party to declare impasse where none exists.”
Rauner’s team avoided the word “impasse” but indicated the administration is pondering its next move, including perhaps placing the impasse question before the Labor Relations Board.
“After a year of no meaningful progress, we must now evaluate the benefit of future sessions given AFSCME’s intransigence,” the administration said.
Negotiators for the two sides began meeting in January, shortly after Rauner was sworn in. AFSCME’s contract expired in June.
There’s no love lost between the two groups. AFSCME has said Rauner’s out to bust unions in Illinois, and Rauner has at times called AFSCME “AF-scammie.”
The two sides appear far apart on wages, insurance benefits, work rules and other items.
The Rauner administration points to its reaching deals with five Teamster units and a dozen trade union locals representing about 5,300 state workers as proof it’s not trying to bust anyone, but simply out to strike deals the state can afford given its awful financial condition.
The administration says those contracts included merit pay, bonus pools, insurance options and cooperative agreements on areas such as cost-savings and heightened efforts to hire and promote minorities in state government.
AFSCME said the governor’s team isn’t comparing like organizations or responsibilities.
For instance, it says the 4,700 Teamsters who have settled have an independent health plan that members can rely on, whereas it and other large unions still at the table represent some 40,000 employees, most of whom don’t have such a health option.
Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network.