Brawl over bargaining bill resumes; stakes are high

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By Mark Fitton

Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD The hotly disputed interest arbitration or “no strike-no lockout” bill is back in play in the state Capitol.

While Gov. Bruce Rauner, R-Winnetka, argues the measure is an expensive, taxpayer-funded gift to organized labor that Illinois can’t afford, Democratic proponents say the bill would forestall a work stoppage and protect state workers and services.

At issue is House Bill 580, essentially a revival of 2015’s vetoed Senate Bill 1229, which would let arbitrators decide between the state’s and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ final contract offers.

The House Labor and Commerce Committee on Thursday sent an amendment to the bill to the full chamber Thursday, restarting the fight over the measure.

That fight will be timely, as the Rauner administration last month asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to declare an impasse in the yearlong contract talks between the state and AFSCME, which have failed to yield an agreement.

The governor’s office was quick to take up the challenge Thursday, issuing a statement accusing AFSCME of reneging on an agreement to let the Illinois Labor Relations Board decide whether an impasse exists and trying to shift the contract decision to arbitrators.

“Instead of lobbying for yet another version of the failed legislation from last fall, AFSCME should defend its proposals before the Labor Board,” the governor’s statement said. “This is what AFSCME has agreed to do in that very forum, on three separate occasions. If AFSCME believes its actions are reasonable, it should make its case to the board.”

AFSCME, however, says the Rauner team is improperly seeking an impasse with the goal of imposing its own contract terms and forcing a strike.

In a union Q&A sheet published this month, AFSCME says it has “
clearly and consistently stated our willingness to continue to negotiate, while the Rauner administration is trying to persuade the Labor Board to allow it to force its extreme demands on employees — or force the disruption that a strike would cause.”

Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, on Thursday said the governor’s promise to stay at the bargaining table likely was one of the major reasons for the failure of an override effort of SB 1229 last fall.

Smiddy said Rauner, now seeking an impasse in the contract negotiations, shouldn’t be surprised the legislation is back in play.

“We do not want to create a work stoppage here in the state of Illinois,” said Smiddy, one of the chief co-sponsors of HB 580. “If we do not pass this piece of legislation and sign it into law, the governor can implement his last, best and final offer to the employees which would ultimately, probably make a work stoppage happen, and that’s something the people of Illinois do not deserve and need right now.”

The administration says its reasoning now is the same as it was in the fall. It says the bill could hand the union a $3 billion contract windfall that taxpayers cannot afford.

If HB 580 becomes law, the General Assembly would effectively cede major financial decisions to unelected, unaccountable arbitrators,” Rauner’s office said.

“AFSCME is gambling for a big payday in arbitration. But it is the General Assembly that will have the difficult job of finding the money to pay for AFSCME’s jackpot, likely at the expense of cutting essential services in the state, imposing employee layoffs, or other drastic measures,” said the Rauner statement.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, D-Hillside, on Thursday said the bill is about fairness and keeping government running.

“What we’re going to do by this is ensure fairness, ensure that both parties stay at the table, ensure that government stays open and that the union’s not going to strike and the administration’s not going to lock them out, and I don’t see how you can go wrong with that,” Welch said.

Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, a member of the House Labor and Commerce Committee, disagreed. “It does disturb me that we seem to have no disregard for the taxpayer — none whatsoever,” he said. 

“It also seems we have no regard for the people who generally pass appropriations bills, and that’s the General Assembly. I think you’ve taken that out of our hands, (and) I think that’s totally wrong,” Kay said.

It would take simple majority votes in each chamber to get HB 580 to Rauner’s desk, where he would likely veto it. An override effort would require a three-fifths majority vote in each chamber.

Last fall, the Senate passed the override measure with 37 Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Sam McCann of Plainview, supporting it. McCann said he was heeding the will of his district.

The override motion failed to get the 71 required votes in House, with 68 Democrats backing it and no Republicans voting in favor. Democrats not voting for the bill were Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood with a “no” vote; Rep. Jack Franks of Woodstock, who voted present; and Rep. Ken Dunkin of Chicago, who was absent.

The General Assembly next returns to Springfield on Tuesday.

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