The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the union representing the largest number of Illinois state employees, announced Thursday that 81 percent of members voted to authorize a strike.
Leaders from AFSCME, which represents workers who investigate child abuse, care for veterans and people with disabilities and mental illness, state parks and more, faulted Gov. Bruce Rauner for breaking off contract negotiations with the union more than a year ago.
“We have come to this juncture for one reason only: the refusal of Governor Rauner to negotiate with our union,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said in a statement.
The union’s current contract expired in July 2015. Since then, AFSCME has been at odds with the Rauner administration.
As a result, the majority of the union’s 38,000 members cast ballots at 200 work sites over the past three weeks, authorizing the strike - the first such vote in the union's 45-year history of collective bargaining.
The yes vote serves as a catalyst to pressure the governor to return to the bargaining table and reach a compromise, but doesn’t particularly mean there will be an immediate strike. Rather, the vote authorized the collective bargaining committee to call a strike. The committee will meet in the coming days to “chart its path” and assess pending litigation. The union must give five days notice if and when there may be a strike.
“State workers don’t want to strike,” Lynch said. “We are keenly aware of the importance of the public services we provide, and we are willing to compromise.”
“But if Governor Rauner continues to refuse his legal obligation to bargain in good faith, he risks a strike that would shut down state government, and he alone bears the responsibility for the harm a strike would cause,” she added.
In a statement Thursday, Rauner's general counsel Dennis Murashko called the strike authorization "an attack on our state's hardworking taxpayers and all those who rely on critical services provided everyday."
"It is a direct result of AFSCME leadership’s ongoing misinformation campaign about our proposal," Murashko said. "AFSCME leaders would rather strike than work 40 hours a week before earning overtime. They want to earn overtime after working just 37.5 hours per week. AFSCME leaders would rather strike than allow state employees to be paid based on merit. They want to stick to paying people based on seniority, regardless of whether they’re doing a good job."
"Put simply, AFSCME leaders will do or say anything to avoid implementing a contract that is fair to both taxpayers and state employees alike," he added. "If AFSCME chooses to strike, we will use every resource to ensure services continue to be available to the people of Illinois. We continue to encourage AFSCME to work with us in implementing a contract that is similar to those ratified by 20 other unions."
Negotiations between AFSCME leaders and Rauner's administration lasted 67 days, the longest in the parties' history of negotiations. After 67 days, the two sides remained $3 billion apart in their proposals, at which point the parties asked the state's bipartisan Labor Board to determine whether negotiations had reached an impasse. In November of last year, the board unanimously concluded that the negotiations are at impasse.
The Rauner administration has urged AFSCME leaders to implement their proposals, which are similar to what 20 other unions have already agreed to.
Lynch called Rauner's proposals "unreasonable," "extreme" and "damaging," claiming the governor has "stubbornly refused to work with state legislators" and AFSCME representatives.
"We're more than willing to find common ground, but we won't just roll over," she added.