Chicago aldermen went to bat for the state’s largest public employee union Thursday in a confrontation with Gov. Bruce Rauner that threatens to culminate in a strike.
The resolution co-signed by 46 aldermen and advanced by the City Council’s Workforce Development Committee urges Rauner to return to the bargaining table to resolve his confrontation with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.
Aldermen openly acknowledged that the resolution does not carry the weight of law.
Nor is it likely to influence a Republican governor who has asked the Illinois Supreme Court for permission to impose his preferred contract conditions on AFSCME’s 38,000 members who work for state government.
“We are not blind to the fact that we have no power to compel Gov. Rauner to act to do the right thing,” said Ald. Ray Lopez (15th).
“But that doesn’t mean that we, as a city, as a collective, can’t continue to fight against the winds that he tries to bring — the winds of disorder and chaos and forced crises that are impacting . . . communities that are most vulnerable.”
By taking their case to the court of public opinion — during a City Hall news conference and a hearing that followed — aldermen whose past campaigns have been bankrolled by AFSCME hope to pressure the governor.
Their goal is to avert a strike that South Side Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) warned would have a devastating impact on African-American neighborhoods like his own where residents have used government jobs at all levels as a “ticket to the middle class.”
Samia Miles, a three-year veteran of the state’s Department of Human Services, complained about the governor’s demand that AFSCME members pay double for medical coverage.
“For me, that’s alarming because I tend to my own chronic medical condition that already consumes a majority of my income. So, the idea of paying thousands more for my health coverage is devastating. But, it doesn’t matter to a [billionaire] governor,” Miles said.
“Having to spend thousands of dollars for my health care is not the only issue. . . . The governor wants to wipe out standards in our contract that prevent reckless privatization of public service. He wants a blank check to privatize anything at any time without any accountability.”
Unless Rauner is willing to compromise, Miles said AFSCME members will have no other option but to go on strike. A strike has already been approved by union members, with 81 percent voting to authorize one.
“The governor doesn’t seem to care about the harm this will cause. He’s seeking confrontation. But, we don’t want to have to strike. . . . We are very concerned — especially for those in the Chicago area. A strike would hit our communities the hardest,” Miles said.
Aracely Tirado has spent nearly four years at the state’s Department of Children and Family Services assigned to the reception desk at Juvenile Court. She provides information to caseworkers, attorneys, parents and children. She loves her job because she believes she can make a difference when families need it most.
“I’m so frustrated that the governor refuses to bargain. He walked out of negotiations more than a year ago and has repeatedly rejected any call for negotiations. He just wants to impose his terms without any understanding of what impact it would have on state employees and on our families. Or perhaps, he just doesn’t care,” she said.
“He is demanding that we pay 100 percent more in health costs, but not get a penny more in wages for four years. My husband and I are raising four children. And even now on our salaries, we need to be very careful about our household budget. I know how the governor wants everyone to believe that state employees all make the big bucks, but it’s just not true. We don’t. Let’s get real. The pay cut would hurt me and my family.”
The governor’s general counsel, Dennis Murashko, responded to the City Council pressure by noting that the Rauner administration “negotiated with AFSCME leadership for 67 days while it was clear they had no plans of compromise on their agenda.”
“Our proposals — like overtime kicking in after 40 hours, the use of volunteers and a merit pay system — are nothing out of the ordinary, and have been agreed upon by 20 other public employee unions,” Murashko wrote in an emailed statement.
“We continue to invite AFSCME to put aside its unaffordable demands, remember the taxpayers who have to pay state employee salaries and benefits, and work with us to implement common-sense proposals.”