Refusing to compromise, Rauner risks a strike

One year ago, Gov. Rauner broke off contract negotiations with AFSCME, the largest union representing public service workers in state government. Since then, he has refused all efforts by our union to renew negotiations in the hopes of finding common ground.

State employees are on the job every day, protecting kids, caring for veterans, keeping prisons secure, responding to emergencies and providing countless other services that Illinois residents rely on.

In contrast, from his earliest days as a candidate, Rauner has been fixated on confrontation, boasting he would "shut down" state government to "re-do" our union contract.

For the past year, instead of negotiating, he pushed for the power to unilaterally impose his own terms, including a blank check to outsource public services for private profit, as well as a 100 percent increase in employee health care premiums and a four-year wage freeze. That combination would take $10,000 from the average worker's pocket. It may be hard for a mega-millionaire like him to appreciate, but that kind of loss would do serious harm to the typical working family.

By refusing to negotiate, Rauner is forcing employees to make a deeply troubling choice: Live with the governor's unfair terms or go out on strike. State workers are doing everything possible to avoid that course. We know how difficult and disruptive a strike would be for employees, our families and most of all the people we serve.

That's why AFSCME recently took the unprecedented step of publicly putting forward a new settlement framework that made very clear employees' willingness to do their part to help address the state's fiscal woes.

Under our framework, state employees would receive no increases in base wages for four years, while paying moderately higher health care premiums, co-pays and deductibles. And we emphasized our readiness to negotiate further on these and all other outstanding issues.

Unfortunately, within hours of our announcement, the governor's representatives rejected this new framework, deriding it as "superficial" and making false claims about its cost. Once again they refused any further discussions with our union, continuing to ignore the voices of reason, including lawmakers from both parties who urge Rauner to return to bargaining.

It's clear that this standoff - like the state budget he has held hostage ever since taking office - is about putting the governor's political agenda ahead of what's best for the people of Illinois. That's why, in the coming weeks, child protection workers, parole officers, nurse aides, forensic scientists, rehabilitation counselors and thousands of other state employees across Illinois will vote on whether to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike.

But even as they do, we will continue to emphasize that it's not too late for the governor to choose a better path. State workers want to move Illinois forward through compromise. If Bruce Rauner insists on forcing conflict, then he must bear the responsibility for the results, including the threat of a statewide strike.

Roberta Lynch is executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31.

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