Illinois Holds Its Breath: Gov. Rauner “Actually Courting a Strike,” Onlookers Say

Via Chicago Sun-Times

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s anti-union rhetoric and resolve will be tested in the leadup to June 30th, the date that a contract with 38,000 state employees expires and a statewide strike or lockout could ensue.  Contentious negotiations between the Rauner administration and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) have come to a near standstill, but the governor does not seem to mind. He intends to make good on his campaign promise to “accept a strike or lockout if that’s what it took to win concessions from state workers on their contract.” Democratic leaders and union representatives continue to attempt to negotiate, but Rauner is poised for a final showdown.  

Last week, the political website Capitol Fax published a Contingency Preparation Assessment sent by the Rauner administration to state agencies asking them what they would do in the event of a strike.  The questions range from which services would become unavailable to how many temporary workers they would need.  Rauner is using the AFSCME members and their contract as a bargaining chip to advance his anti-worker policy-heavy “turnaround agenda,” but it could easily backfire. The drawbacks of a strike that wide-ranging are many, writes Pantagraph’s Kurt Erickson:

If a strike or a lockout occurs, you won’t see prison guards and state police involved. They can’t strike, for obvious reasons.

But there still could be thousands of state workers on the picket line in the heat of the summer.

State government already is messed up. A strike or lockout of the 38,000 AFSCME workers would mean major upheaval at facilities that treat the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

It could mean public health workers wouldn’t be around to fight infectious disease breakouts. Imagine what it would be like for a temporary employee to get hired to run the dispatching operation for the state police. Who would help people sign up for food stamps and unemployment?

Could temp workers suddenly be tasked with overseeing orphans and juvenile offenders?

So far, the governor’s rhetoric has been just that. But, come July 1, it could turn into a reality Illinoisans have not witnessed before.

Many Democrats seem to believe that the fate of the negotiations has already been decided by Rauner, who wishes to create a name for himself despite his right-wing “turnaround agenda” being a total failure thus far.  During a hearing last week, Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) told a Rauner lawyer, “I don’t think you can convince me you don’t want a strike.”

With the governor’s plans becoming more clear, the legislature took up a bill that would have prevented a strike or lockout during the negotiation process.  The bill, which flew through the Senate on a 38-17 vote, would have allowed an independent arbitrator to decide the new contract terms if negotiations reached an impasse.  The bill is supported by AFSCME but is expected to be vetoed by Rauner.  

Among the bill’s supporters was Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), whose comments after the vote alluded to his belief that Rauner was actively seeking a strike.  Harmon told The State-Journal Register:

“From all public reports, it appears the negotiations are not going well.  It appears one side of the negotiating table would be quite happy with a strike or a lockout.  

This forces moderation,” Harmon said of the bill. “It appears clear to me and others when one side is actually courting a strike, that moderation disappears.”

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