Your Turn. . . 9-4-03
A failure to communicate
To the editor,
We were disappointed with the slant your reporter gave to our union's role in the merger of the Illinois State Lottery into the Department of Revenue ["Fired," August 7, 2003].
Contrary to the allegation in the article (based on speculation by unnamed sources), AFSCME never cut any kind of deal with the Governor regarding this merger, nor can we even imagine what this comment could refer to. Our Union has never supported the plan, but unfortunately from our standpoint the Governor does not need our agreement to merge agencies.
What we can do in such situations is just what we have done--negotiate over the impact of such decisions and ensure that our members' contractual rights are protected.
While I have no doubt that we could have done more, we have made continuous efforts to communicate with our members throughout this process. In fact, the document quoted in the article was a widely distributed six-page report summarizing Management's responses to a wide array of employee concerns that the Union has been working to get resolved. There have also been a number of lunchtime meetings sponsored by the union to brief employees on the situation.
In a number of instances, your article misleads by inference. For instance, one paragraph mentions that 14 layoffs occurred and the next refers to AFSCME's response to layoffs without ever making clear that in fact not one AFSCME member in Springfield has been laid off as a result of this merger. (Two members in Chicago were laid off after they declined other positions offered to them.)
I have no doubt that many of our members are upset about this merger and with good reason. Our union is always skeptical of such bureaucratic rearrangements because we have found that they rarely produce the promised cost savings and often actually harm efficiency and service delivery. But where the employer is determined to forge ahead, as they were in this case, we have done everything possible to ensure that employees' rights and jobs are protected. Your article should have made that clear rather than implying the opposite.
AFSCME Council 31
Pete Sherman responds:
I'm happy to hear the AFSCME members laid off from the Illinois State Lottery found new jobs in the Department of Revenue. When my article was published, that hadn't happened yet (though I clearly stated these workers were being given the chance to apply for other positions). The allegation about the union's dealings with the governor was made by an AFSCME member. If AFSCME officials had granted my numerous requests for an interview, the article may have been more to their liking. But in the absence of their feedback, I could only rely on their panicked membership.