Last week, Governor Bruce Rauner broke off contract negotiations with AFSCME Council 31, the union that represents nearly 40,000 state workers, and will seek a declaration from the Illinois Labor Relations Board (“the Board”) that the parties reached an impasse in their negotiations. If the Board finds that an impasse exists, the State may be able to impose its last, best offer on state employees.  

The State and AFSCME have been locked in contentious negotiations for most of the last year. The collective bargaining agreement between AFSCME and the State of Illinois expired on June 30, 2015. However, through a tolling agreement, the parties effectively extended the terms of the previous contract while negotiations proceed.

The State has been largely critical of AFSCME’s proposals. The union has sought an 11.5% wage increase over four years and more generous health insurance benefits, while the State has proposed a wage freeze and a mix of benefit reductions and increases in employee premium contributions. The State also proposed the creation of a merit-based pay system, including bonuses for high performance ratings and good attendance. The State already reached agreement on similar terms with other unions representing other groups of State employees, including the Teamsters, SEIU, and the International Union of Operating Engineers. In a letter to State employees last week, Governor Rauner claimed that “AFSCME has no intention of ever reaching a deal at the table…We are no closer today than we were 12 months ago. Taxpayers will not be served by further sessions.”

Meanwhile, AFSCME accused the State of abandoning negotiations only to provoke confrontation. According to AFSCME’s bargaining team, both parties were exchanging proposals until the State unnecessarily and prematurely broke off talks. The union acknowledged the substantial disagreements between the parties, but indicated that AFSCME is willing to continue negotiating. AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said in a statement, “The members of AFSCME’s rank-and-file elected bargaining committee have consistently responded to the administration’s demands with fair counterproposals. We’re committed to continuing to do so, and we don’t want disruption of the public services we provide.”

The Board has assigned the unfair labor practice charge filed by the State to one of its investigators, but the process could take months to resolve, particularly if evidentiary hearings are necessary. The ultimate decision will be left to the five-member Board, four of whom were appointed or recently reappointed by Governor Rauner. If the Board determines that an impasse exists, and the State imposes its last, best final offer, AFSCME may decide to call a strike – the first ever in its history of representing Illinois state employees. AFSCME has also promised to explore its legal options to force the State to return to the bargaining table. We will continue to provide updates as the Board considers the matter.