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Budget Thu Jul 14 2011

AFSCME, The CPS and Contracts

In response to an announcement on July 1 that state employees would not receive the 4 percent raise promised in their contract, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 has filed a federal suit saying that the withholding of the wage increases violates federal and state constitution provisions that bar against contract violation. According to WBEZ, Gov. Quinn said on Tuesday that the raises are not being given because the General Assembly did not appropriate the funds for the raises. However, the complaint also points out that Gov. Quinn cut $376 million from the budget through line-item veto and could have done something about the funds for raises. In the past, AFSCME has worked with the state to figure out how to deal with the budget crisis, salaries and employment for state employees.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Chicago Board of Education voted unanimously in June to rescind the 4 percent wage increases promised to teachers and staff members in their contracts and it was announced yesterday that CPS principals and assistant principals would also not receive their scheduled pay raise. (CPS principals and assistant principals are not unionized.) The contracts for both groups expire in 2012. With both agencies, there are large budget deficits--$715 million for CPS, $13 billion for the State of Illinois--but both unions have cited flaws with the budgets that are not allowing for their raises.

While AFSCME's lawsuit is waiting in court, CTU, along with Service Employees International Union Local 7 and 73, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 143 and 143b, UNITE HERE Local 1, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 700 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 143 are waiting to schedule a meeting with the Board of Education to discuss negotiations, according to CTU spokeswoman Liz Brown. The two stories here seem to have a connection.

With both of these situations, public employees are being denied the wage increases they were promised in their contracts that have not expired. During the past six months, both Ohio and Wisconsin have passed laws that severely limit collective bargaining for public employees. Meanwhile, in Illinois, collective bargaining rights for public employees aren't restricted and yet in both Springfield and Chicago, employees are being told that they will not get the raises they are promised in their contracts because money couldn't be found or allocated in the budget. There are problems throughout the budgets that do raise questions about why these employees are losing their wage increases, notably CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard receiving a salary higher than any of his predecessors in that position. There is also the question of why the government didn't go to AFSCME or the seven unions that represent CPS employees and discuss the budget deficit and employee salaries.

The large question with this situation is this: If the government continues to ignore or void obligations to their employees while still allowing those unions to do collective bargaining, what message does it send about the government's regard for unions? I'm not suggesting that Illinois should limit collective bargaining for public employees, but something seems very wrong with this situation. Why aren't government agencies or representatives sitting down with unions to completely discuss the budget shortfalls before they rescind salary increases or lay off hundreds of workers, as happened today with Mayor Emanuel announcing to lay off 625 public employees.

Everything with both the state and Chicago Board of Education is still unfolding at this point, and we can now add the city to this with the announcement of layoffs. While there are questions about why this is happening and what this means, the idea to possibly be gathered from this seems to be that the unions should not be bypassed on the way to decision making.

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Dennis Fritz / July 18, 2011 10:21 AM

When people objected to the large bonuses doled out by the banking industry following the massive taxpayer bailout, banking spokespeople defended paying those bonuses, saying they were legally bound to honor exisitng contracts. Now, the State of Illinois is claiming the right to summarily alter or ignore existing contracts with its workers. So, basically, when CEO pay is at stake, contracts must be honored. However, when rank-and-file workers' salaries are at stake, contracts mean nothing.

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