By Bia Medious
State and municipal employees are threatening a strike in response to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s refusal to negotiate their new contract.
Rauner wants the union to accept both a four-year wage freeze and $10,000 in additional health insurance costs, which is a 100 percent increase. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 (AFSCME) announced the ongoing vote to authorize a strike during Tuesday’s news conference at the James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St. Several state representatives also spoke in support of the workers.
“Ultimately, the person who caused this hostage crisis is Gov. Rauner,” said AFSCME spokesperson Anders Lindall. “And the person who can resolve it is Bruce Rauner, by coming back to develop a budget… and negotiating fairly with our committee to settle a contract.”
In January, AFSCME’s Bargaining Committee voted for a new framework for settling the state’s contract after the Governor’s yearlong refusal to further negotiate. Modeling the independent arbitrator’s decision in the recent case between the Illinois State Troopers Lodge 41/FOP and the Rauner Administration, the framework provided a four-year wage freeze coupled with smaller health care increases.
“Paying thousands of dollars for my healthcare insurance is simply something I can’t afford,” said Roberto Botello, a mental health technician at Chicago Read Mental Health Center.
“Nobody [in the union] wants that, but they’re trying to be realistic, and the governor called [the new framework] superficial,” said Jo Patton, AFSCME’s director of special projects, after the conference. “[Rauner] just showed how out of touch [he is].”
Holding Kasen, her 4-month old son, Sydney Arnold, from the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Local 416, stood with legislators at the conference. “With me having a little one, it’s like how do I provide?” she said. “He’s talking about closing down the facility.”
“State workers, AFSCME workers, do not want to strike. They want to work together with our governor,” said Illinois Sen. Omar Aquino (D-2nd). “We’re asking [Rauner] to come back to the negotiation table, keep Illinois working.”
Dennis Murashko, general counsel for the governor’s administration, responded to the conference with a statement that read, “We invite AFSCME to set aside its misleading, divisive rhetoric and work with us on implementing common sense proposals similar to what 20 other unions have accepted.”
“The governor has come to agreement with trade unions that are predominately made up of white men,” said Illinois Rep. Emanuel Welch (D-7th). “He has refused to even come to the table with the largest state employee unions that are largely made up of African Americans and Latinos.”
Illinois Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8th) offered up advice to the state’s taxpayers, those unemployed, and anyone who had lost someone to street violence. “Stand up and… protest the governor,” he said. “Protest Springfield, just the way we’ve seen people protest Donald Trump.”
AFSCME’s 30,000 members finished voting on authorizing the strike on Feb. 19. The results have not yet been announced.