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Thursday, March 24, 2011 05:25 am

Labor unions balk at bargaining bill

Statehouse rally planned for April 7 in Springfield

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AFSCME and other labor union members and supporters rallied at the Statehouse March 15.
PHOTO BY HOLLY DILLEMUTH

Labor unions are continuing negotiations over legislation backed by Gov. Pat Quinn that would lift collective bargaining rights from current high-ranking state agency workers and legislative liaisons, as well as their right to apply for future union membership.

“We strongly support union representation and collective bargaining for many state workers, but the system only works when there are workers and managers,” says Quinn spokesperson Annie Thompson.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is among several labor unions in discussion with Quinn’s staff over an amendment to House Bill 3628 that would strip the collective bargaining rights of more than 4,000 AFSCME members, according to Anders Lindall, spokesperson for AFSCME. A previous bill that didn’t pass the Senate before the end of the lame duck session would have cut collective bargaining rights for nearly 20,000 AFSCME members.

“What’s happened in Wisconsin is far more sweeping,” Lindall said in an interview.  “This bill in Illinois is far narrower in scope but the principle is the same.”

Lindall worries that without the union contract in place for current state workers – who also perform “managerial” tasks – the administration could change workers’ compensation, cut pay, mandate furlough days or change benefits and grievance procedures for workers.

“We’re talking about state employees who have been members of our union since 2008,” he says, referring to the effect of the legislation.

Lindall notes that the bill would take bargaining rights away from high-ranking staff members of constitutional officers and policy consultants from state agencies. Aside from losing collective bargaining rights, these and other state employees who are not in management but perform management duties, would also be denied the right to petition for union membership under the legislation.

Between 425 and 450 petitions are submitted to the Illinois Labor Relations Board each year by state workers seeking to join unions, according to John Brosnan, executive director of the Illinois Labor Relations Board.

Lindall says that more workers have sought union membership in Illinois since former Gov. Rod Blagojevich cut the state’s work force when he came into office in 2003, causing those state workers to look for more secure benefits.

House Minority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat and sponsor of the bill, worries that current petitions to join unions could inflate union membership from 96 percent to 99 percent of the state work force.

Out of Illinois’ approximately 45,000 state employees, all but approximately 760 positions would be in a collective bargaining unit if the most recent round of petitions for union membership are approved, according to Thompson of Quinn’s staff.
“Some of the highest paid managerial staff, f
or example, deputy directors and general counsel, have entered into a bargaining unit, and it is difficult for the state to effectively deliver essential services if there’s no management presence within state agencies,” says Thompson.

Currie says that it is not the intent of the bill to cut union numbers.

“It is the intention to say that there ought to be people who have clear management responsibilities,” she said in an interview. “You can’t run a ship of state when you don’t have anybody who’s doing the running. I mean I’m a strong supporter of unions but there is something wrong with this picture when virtually everybody is a member of the union. No one’s in charge here.”  

“If there is a legitimate operational problem… we want to hear it,” Lindall said in an interview.

American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations has planned a nationwide and statewide campaign called, “We Are One,” for the first week of April. A rally is planned for 5 p.m. April 7 on the east side of the Statehouse. Supporters are invited to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his stand for the collective bargaining rights for sanitation workers before his death in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

For more information, go online at www.we-r-1.org.

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.

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