In the first-ever strike authorization vote in Illinois state government, an 81 percent majority of the members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 have voted to give their union bargaining committee the authority to call a strike.
The vote comes after Governor Bruce Rauner broke off negotiations with the union more than a year ago and has refused to even meet with the AFSCME bargaining committee ever since.
“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.
Instead of working toward compromise, Governor Rauner has been seeking the power to unilaterally impose his own extreme demands, including a 100% hike in employee costs for health care that would take $10,000 out of the pocket of the average state worker, a four-year wage freeze and an end to safeguards against irresponsible privatization.
“Bruce Rauner may think he can dictate, not negotiate, but this vote shows that AFSCME members are determined to stand up for basic fairness,” Lynch said.
“I voted YES to authorize a strike because my family needs health care we can afford, because my community needs public services it can rely on, and because Governor Rauner needs to come back to the bargaining table,” said Stephen Mittons, a child protective investigator in the Illinois Department of Human Services in Chicago.
“As public service workers we are willing to do our part, but it can’t be Governor Rauner’s way or nothing at all,” said Nicole Power, an Illinois Department of Revenue employee in Springfield. “I can’t understand Bruce Rauner’s stubborn refusal to negotiate. He has to be willing to meet us in the middle.”
“We live in our communities, we care about our communities and we serve our communities,” said Steve Howerter, a counselor at Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton. “We understand the situation the state is in money-wise, because we are taxpayers too. And so we are willing to do our part, but what we’re not willing to do is give up our voice.”
AFSCME Council 31 represents some 38,000 Illinois state employees who protect kids, care for veterans and the disabled, respond to emergencies, help struggling families and much more.
The vote to authorize the union bargaining committee to call a strike does not necessarily mean that there will be a strike. The bargaining committee will meet in the coming days to chart its path, and pending litigation could also play a role.
“State workers don’t want to strike. We are keenly aware of the importance of the public services we provide, and we are willing to compromise,” AFSCME director Lynch said. “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 responsibility for the harm a strike would cause.”