By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
As hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans are getting laid off or seeing their pay slashed as a result of the economic shutdown, Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been quietly finalizing the $1.5 billion, five-year contract she negotiated with the Chicago Teachers Union six months ago. WBEZ reported on May 5th that final contract negotiations are “nearly complete.”
At the same time, Gov. J.B. Pritzker still plans to pay $261 million in raises to AFSCME workers, part of a $3 billion multi-year, guaranteed contract he signed with the union last year. Never mind his lockdown has contributed to the joblessness of more than one million private sector Illinoisans.
Pritzker and Lightfoot’s actions lay bare how Illinois would spend federal state aid for the pandemic. Public payrolls are getting slashed around the country – California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom just announced 10 percent wage cuts for state employees and a 10 percent reduction in public school funding – but not in Illinois. Quite the opposite.
Both leaders are doling out raises all while saying Illinois’ financial problems can’t be solved without help from Congress.
Here’s what Lightfoot said last week: “If we don’t get additional help from the federal government, we are going to be in a world of hurt, there’s no two ways about it.”
What’s Lightfoot offering in her contract, which she calls the “most generous” ever granted to the union? Average teacher salaries that jump to $100,000 by 2024, an increase of 24 percent from 2019. Average second-year teacher salaries that jump to $73,000 after five years, an increase of 35 percent. Nurses will also get increases to $73,000, up 48 percent.
And at the state level, thousands of AFSCME employees, who are already some of the nation’s highest paid state workers, are scheduled to receive automatic raises in July. They’ll get step increases plus cost-of-living raises worth an additional $260 million in the face of what Pritzker says will be a 2021 deficit of $7.4 billion.
Illinois state workers already average more than $110,000 in total compensation, including free retiree health insurance for most state workers. (See Appendix for details on CPS and AFSCME benefits.)
Pritzker and Lightfoot’s favoritism toward government unions makes it clear that there are two classes of people in Illinois.
The first class, the public sector, is protected by long-term employment contracts, guaranteed pay and constitutionally protected pensions. The second class, hit by massive pay cuts, job losses and uncertainty, must pay for the first class, no matter what.
Those have been the rules of the game for decades in Illinois. And Mayor Lightfoot and Gov. Pritzker are guilty of continuing those rules amidst the worst downturn since the Great Depression. The private sector’s ability to pay for government will only worsen the longer Illinois’ lockdown – the nation’s strictest – continues.
Instead of foisting the entire cost of the crisis onto ordinary Illinoisans, the governor and mayor should immediately reduce costs by furloughing workers, cutting wages and pushing off non-essential expenses. Cost of living adjustments for pensions should also be cut across the board, as deflation is likely to be with us for some time.
Neither politician had a problem shredding contracts, guarantees and civil liberties across the private sector as part of their government-mandated shutdowns. The two have no excuse not to move forward on the public-sector reforms the state needs.
Both Pritzker and Lightfoot want federal dollars. But they refuse to make any reforms or embrace shared sacrifice. That’s plenty of reason for other states – many of which have made cuts of their own – to have little sympathy for Illinois’ pleas.
Read more about AFSCME, the CTU contract and the impact of COVID-19 on Illinois:
- Chicago teachers’ contract costs a record $1.5 billion, and that doesn’t even include pension costs
- Another budget surprise: Pritzker hits up middle-class Illinoisans for more AFSCME raises, stipends and bennies
- Pritzker’s overly-restrictive shutdown rules make Illinois a national outlier
- COVID-19 pushes nation’s weakest pension plans closer to the brink: A 50-state survey
- Half of Illinois’ deaths linked to retirement homes. Five key facts you should know
- Pritzker’s top-down reopen strategy will fail large parts of IL: He should expect pushback
- COVID-19: Seven facts that tell us Illinoisans can and must get back to work
Appendix 1. Benefits of Chicago teachers
Appendix 2. Benefits of state AFSCME workers