By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
It looks as if AFSCME will win yet another battle in its long-standing contract fight with the state. The state and AFSCME haven’t had a labor contract in place since the last one expired in June 2015.
Since then, AFSCME salaries have been frozen, but now the courts say that the state must honor any step increases – built-in automatic increases over and above normal pay raises – that were in place in the previous contract. The courts have now sent the pay dispute back to the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB) for a remedy.
Ironically, that means many AFSCME workers could see pay increases even if their union won’t agree to a contract. And if they get their way, it will be expensive. The step increases alone will cost the state – and taxpayers – more than $400 million. That’s the cost to make up for the lost step increases since July 2015 through 2019, the soonest Illinoisans might expect a new state contract with AFSCME. (It’s unlikely the union will reach any sort of deal with Gov. Bruce Rauner before the general election.)
The AFSCME contract runs counter to what the state has been able to negotiate with 19 other labor unions in Illinois. The other, smaller unions agreed to salary freezes and other concessions in light of Illinois’ financial difficulties.
Not AFSCME. The union’s original demands included worker salary raises ranging from 11.5 to 29 percent, a 37.5-hour workweek, five weeks of vacation and enhanced health care coverage.
Their additional demands are extreme considering what they’ve gotten in the past. State AFSCME worker salaries grew more than 40 percent between 2005 and 2015. Meanwhile, the earnings of ordinary Illinoisans grew only 11 percent, half the rate of inflation.
In fact, Illinois state workers are the 2nd-highest paid in the nation after you adjust for cost-of-living.
Taxpayers also pick up most of state workers’ health care costs. And in retirement, career state workers get free health insurance and will average over $1.6 million in lifetime pension benefits – on top of Social Security.
In all, our previous work shows the average state worker receives nearly $110,000 in total compensation.
Illinois taxpayers, struggling under the highest property taxes in the nation and a recent income tax hike, can’t afford these type of benefits for AFSCME workers.
Illinois’ crisis won’t end until AFSCME salaries, healthcare and retirement benefits are reduced to a level taxpayers can afford.
A salary freeze, which was the de facto situation for the past three years, should be the least of AFSCME’s concessions.