Union Holdout Still Grandstanding Against Struggling Illinois

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Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner reached another labor agreement Wednesday with a major union despite still facing his most stubborn holdout.

The agreement is a huge victory for Rauner. The union in question, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is one of the biggest in the country, and its Illinois chapter has a lot of influence in the state. The contract is the latest in a series of labor agreements made between the state and public sector unions. Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), still remains the most significant holdout.

“Altogether, the Governor has now successfully negotiated new collective bargaining agreements with 17 different bargaining units representing more than 5,000 state employees,” the governor’s office detailed in a press release. “These developments stand in stark contrast to the ongoing negotiations with AFSCME Council 31. Despite being offered substantially the same material terms as the Teamsters and the Trades, AFSCME has to date rejected the Governor’s chief proposals.”

AFSCME has been highly critical of Rauner and remains one of his biggest obstacles. It is one of the most powerful unions in the country, representing both public sector employees and retirees. It’s been known for aggressive activity during political campaigns, usually in support of Democrats.

Rauner has tried to limit public sector unions, arging that union power limits will help the state economy. According to The Illinois Policy Institute, the state is struggling in jobs and education, two areas vital to economic growth and stability.

Though the last public sector labor agreement expired in June, Rauner has stood firm while negotiating with AFSCME. There has even been concerns state workers could end up striking. Thus far, state workers have not yet gone on strike.

According to a memo sent out by the governor’s office in July, AFSCME and Rauner have been unable to reach consensus on several key issues. The union has demanded a 11.5 to 29 percent pay increase for state employees, a 37.5 hour work week, and five weeks of fully paid vacation, among other concessions.

In contrast, the contract reached with the SEIU includes many benefits, none of which go as far as what AFSCME  wants. The SEIU agreement expands health insurance benefits, includes new performance based bonus, and boosts reward programs and increased training opportunities. Unlike what AFSCME is demanding, a full week of work is still the standard, including overtime benefits for those workers who go beyond 40 hours.

Additionally, Rauner has advocated for outlawing mandatory union dues or fees. The policy, known as right-to-work, is very much opposed by most unions. In May, Democratic Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan gave Rauner a week to submit a bill if he wanted a vote on the policy. Rauner, though, failed to meet the deadline.

His reforms have made Rauner a target of more union-friendly state lawmakers as well. Democrats introduced a bill in February that would have allowed unions to override the governor during troubled labor negotiations. The Democratic majority in both houses of the state legislature passed the bill, but Rauner vetoed it in July.

Tensions through the labor talks even led to concerns Rauner would use the national guard. The national guard could be used as a last ditch effort to keep the government functional if state workers decided to strike. Rauner was able to reach a labor agreement in June with the Teamsters.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois has come out against the new agreement. In addition to AFSCME, it has also resisted compromise with Rauner. The union noted it is happy for the other SEIU chapter but thinks Rauner has been pushing extreme demands.

AFSCME represents more than 30,000 employees and the SEIU Healthcare represents 52,000 state workers. AFSCME did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Caller News Foundation.

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