Daily Egyptian

Strike vote by big Illinois worker union starts Monday

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Daily Egyptian file photo.

Daily Egyptian file photo.

Daily Egyptian file photo.

By Chicago Tribune Staff

Voting begins Monday in a first-ever strike authorization vote by Illinois’ largest state worker union.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 is taking the unprecedented step of asking its nearly 30,000 members who are eligible to strike if they would be willing to do so in order to counter the contract demands coming from Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Over the next three weeks, union members at 711 work sites across the state will have opportunities to cast ballots on the question. The secret ballot vote is open to all AFSCME members, except those with security-related jobs who aren’t allowed to strike. It is not open to nonunion members, including those who pay so-called “fair share” fees to compensate the union for its contract negotiation services.

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There is no current plan to strike, however. The question put before workers is whether to authorize the union’s collective bargaining committee to call a strike down the road, as contract negotiations with the Rauner administration have been stalled for the past year.

Rauner tried to implement some of his new contract terms late last year, after a state labor panel concluded that the union and the administration had reached an impasse in their negotiations for a contract to replace the one that expired in July of 2015. But the union went to court and managed to halt implementation of those new terms, for now.

The idea behind the strike vote is that it would give the union negotiators a new tool to use in pressuring Rauner back to the bargaining table. The Rauner administration has been critical of the union for having “rushed to authorize a strike,” and has called on AFSCME to help implement Rauner’s new contract instead.

Voting is scheduled to go through Feb. 19, and none of the ballots cast will be counted until the voting has concluded, AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said.

The voting comes at a strange time for the Rauner administration and the union, which find themselves on the same side of a separate but related issue — the question of whether state government workers should be paid during the ongoing budget stalemate.

The two sides succeeded in securing a court order in the summer of 2015 that required the state to keep issuing state worker paychecks on time and in full. The order took pressure off officials to make a budget deal, and it ensured that state workers wouldn’t suffer as a result of the political battle at the Capitol.

But Attorney General Lisa Madigan reopened that issue last week, arguing to a judge that the order should be lifted. An undoing of the court order could change the situation for state workers contemplating the wisdom of a strike: If they’re already expecting to have to go without pay, that could make it easier to get on board with a strike.

 

 

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