US: Illinois Democrats take aim at union rights

Secret measure to end collective bargaining over health care for Illinois public employees

About 5pm tonight, Monday evening, Feb 25th 2013, union lobbyists learned that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was working in secret to pass a measure that would end collective bargaining over health care for Illinois public employees. It’s not clear at the time of writing whether this would include educators.

Illinois House rules allow the Speaker to take charge of an existing bill, assign it to committee and completely alter the content and purpose of the bill, so late night secrecy is nothing new. Less than two years ago a bill was rushed through both houses in less than 24 hours, creating a two tier pension system by reducing the benefits of future employees. That was done so fast that AFSCME members were calling their State Reps and Senators asking them to vote no on a bill which as yet had no number. At the time of writing, there is no bill number for this measure either.

This is not the first time that Democrats in control of the keys of the government – both Houses and the Governor’s mansion – have targeted public employees’ rights to bargain over health care: a precedent was set the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts almost two years ago, on the heels of the battle of Wisconsin (see linked article below). And in Wisconsin, reliance on the Democrats brought about the defeat of a mass movement when union leaders opposed strike action and then channeled the movement into a failed attempt to replace Scott Walker with an anti-Union Democrat.

AFSCME Council 31’s 38,000 members in State government have been locked in a fourteen-month struggle with Illinois’ Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, who terminated our existing contract after it had been extended three times, last November. No previous Illinois Governor has ever terminated a labor contract. In the last few days the Union has publicly stated that strike action is being considered against the Governor’s refusal to bargain meaningfully over pay and other issues including health care for both current and retired employees. Quinn’s last offer would cut the average employee’s net pay by $10,000 and would crucify retirees with premiums and co-pays exceeding a quarter of many, possibly most retirees’ pensions.

In the midst of bargaining, the Democrats have already passed a bill that removes several thousand employees in the highest paying titles from the bargaining unit, violating past decisions of the State’s Public Labor Relations Board and cutting off other employees’ hopes of promoting into those titles through seniority rather than patronage. They are now responding to the likelihood of a strike authorization vote, with a late night sneak attack that threatens to strip us of our rights to bargain health care costs after 35 years of bargaining.

Union members are bombarding legislators with calls telling them to vote this legislation down, and rightly so, but we cannot rely on this tactic. We need to shut the State down with all-out strike action until these politicians of the 1% back down. And then we need to end all support for either party of big business and prepare the work of running our own, independent, pro-worker candidates.

Massachusetts precedent: http://socialistalternative.org/news/article10.php?id=1594

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