The AFSCME Anomaly: Rauner Reaches Union Deals

Nov 18, 2015

Credit Lisa Ryan/WUIS

Another set of unions have reached contract deals with Gov. Bruce Rauner. Amanda Vinicky looks at whether it's really a sign the Republican isn't quite as anti-union as his critics allege.

A press release from Rauner's office proclaims he's agreed to terms on new collective bargaining agreements with electrical workers, boilermakers, bricklayers and painters, covering some 500 employees.

The agreements include a "new performance incentive program," overtime earnings beyond a 40-hour work week, and a program "to address minority underutilization in state government."

In all, 17 collective bargaining agreements have been ratified since Rauner took the helm.

It may give the impression that for all of his right-to-work bluster, Rauner can get along with labor.

Rauner's release goes out of its way to make this point -- saying these agreements "stand in stark contrast to the ongoing negotiations with AFSCME..."

"It is baldly misleading," AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. "The issues on the table are totally different."

Lindall says trade unions have independent health care plans and pay that's often set by the prevailing wage -- whereas for AFSCME, insurance and salaries are priorities.

In all, Rauner's reached agreements with 5,000 workers; AFSCME says it and other unions still at odds with the administration represent more than 40,000.  

AFSCME's contract expired at the end of June, and it and Rauner have agreed to indefinitely work under that old contract's term as they work to settle on a new one.

Though Rauner's press release only labels AFSCME as unwilling to accepts the administration's office, another huge union -- SEIU Healthcare Illinois, which represents home health and child care providers -- has also been operating under last year's expired contract (SEIU Healthcare is separate from SEIU Local 1, which is among the handful of those with a deal announced Wednesday).  SEIU Healthcare says Rauner's plans would essentially strip its workers of insurance coverage. It's also fighting a proposal that would no longer have the state pay for workers' training.

"At the bargaining table, Gov. Rauner has sought to strip the lowest-paid workforce in the state of health insurance and training, along with other demands meant to diminish if not outright eliminate the workplace voice of these vital workers. He also is demanding a wage freeze for workers earning poverty-level wages,"  SEIU Healthcare Illinois President Keith Kelleher said. "For some reason, Rauner appears to be willing to single out SEIU Healthcare for demands harsher than the other units of government with whom he has reached a deal and ALL OF WHICH were able to keep their bargained-for health insurance—and their union voice. "