By Doug Finke
The administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner has set up a website intended to recruit people willing to work for the state in the event of a strike by union employees.
The site -- called Working for a Better Illinois -- is at statejobs.illinois.gov. It asks potential employees to enter their names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. It also asks them to list three counties where they are willing to work, type of job they are interested in and if they are seeking permanent or temporary employment.
In a statement Tuesday, the administration said the website is part of its ongoing efforts to be prepared in the event the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union decides to mount a first-time strike against the state.
"We genuinely hope AFSCME leadership will not strike against taxpayers and work with us on implementing common-sense proposals like overtime after 40 hours, not 37.5," said Gov. Bruce Rauner's general counsel Dennis Murashko in the statement. "However, we must be prepared to continue government operations and provide services that citizens deserve and expect."
The statement says the website "would provide a way for state agencies to efficiently identify those who would work on a temporary basis. Although individuals would be hired on a temporary basis in response to a strike, the state would then begin taking the steps necessary to fill positions permanently."
AFSCME said the administration's move would leave unqualified workers trying to perform state jobs.
"For Governor Rauner to seek temporary strikebreakers in place of skilled and dedicated professionals is a recipe for disaster for the people of Illinois," AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said in a statement. "Instead of trying to intimidate workers with illegal threats, Bruce Rauner should simply do his job: negotiate with us toward a compromise that's fair to all."
AFSCME wants Rauner to return to the negotiating table and continue bargaining over a new contract. Rauner has refused, saying the Illinois Labor Relations Board has ruled the talks are at impasse. That allows the administration to impose its last, best and final offer on the union. AFSCME has gone to court to block that.
AFSCME contends the administration has "unreasonable demands" like much higher health insurance costs while imposing a four-year freeze on wage increases. The union also opposes administration proposals to privatize some state jobs.
AFSCME represents about 38,000 state employees, but roughly 10,000 work in security jobs and are forbidden from striking. Of the remainder, the union said, about 80 percent participated in recent strike-authorization vote and 81 percent of them voted to authorize a strike.
The vote authorized the union's bargaining committee to call a strike at some point in the future. The union would have to give the administration five days' notice in the event it calls for a strike.
AFSCME executive director Roberta Lynch said the union wants to avoid a strike and is pursuing all legal avenues to prevent it.
Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, R-Leland Grove, said she doesn't understand the need for the new jobs portal, when applicants could already apply whenever they wanted. She also called for both sides to come back to the bargaining table.
"I've always maintained that the best solution here is to try to figure out a compromise and negotiation together, because ... all of these different dynamics creates a very uncertain environment," Jimenez said. "I think the best way to solve that is to actually come to the table and talk about how we can negotiate this contract. All of these different items that are talked about can be very disruptive, not only to the workers and their families, but also the people we serve."
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, also called for the governor to reopen negotiations.
"I've said consistently that the governor should pull up his chair to the table and negotiate with AFSCME, and with state employees. Nothing good is going to come of the governor's continued effort that is leading toward what is undoubtedly going to be a strike of state employees," Manar said.
Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, said strike replacements are not the way to go.
"These people are trained, these people know how to do their jobs, and they know how to do their jobs very well," McCann said. "They're taxpayers and deserve to be respected, they deserve to be negotiated with, and we need to get a contract and we need to get the state moving forward."
(c)2017 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.