THE BLOG
09/29/2016 06:58 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2017

AFSCME Ad Accuses Rauner of 'Waging War' on Illinois Workers

Opinion

You don't have a seat at the bargaining table as Gov. Bruce Rauner and AFSCME Council 31 attempt to create a contract for the 38,000 state employees the union represents. Nor is Rauner on the ballot this year.

But AFSCME wants to make sure, as Election Day nears, that you have an opinion on the protracted and contentious negotiations to replace a contract that expired 15 months ago.

A new, 30-second video and TV ad titled "Negotiate" uses the headline of a Feb. 13, 2015, New York Times editorial -- "A war on workers in Illinois" -- in introducing three state workers who make their cases against the governor.

"Gov. Rauner is so far disconnected from how real people live," says one. A few seconds later, she adds that Rauner "refuses to negotiate. He gets up and walks away whenever he doesn't get his way."

"Public service workers in state government protect kids, care for veterans, keep us safe and more," AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said in a press release announcing the ad. "State workers have always been willing to do their part. We're prepared to compromise. But we can only do that if Governor Rauner puts the public good ahead of his personal demands and returns to bargaining ready to negotiate."

Though it doesn't mention any candidates or the Nov. 8 election, the ad's election implications can't be ignored. At the moment, Democrats -- and their union supporters -- are doing everything they can to link their Republican opponents to Rauner. They believe this will negatively affect Republican candidates in legislative races by linking them to an agenda that Democrats have portrayed as anti-union and extreme. This ad, which portrays Rauner as out of touch with average workers and intent on busting the union, plays into that narrative.

(Conversely, Republicans are doing the same to Democratic candidates, whom they are linking to House Speaker Michael Madigan at every opportunity.)

The negotiations between the Rauner administration and AFSCME Council 31, whose last contract expired June 30, 2015, have brought incremental victories to both sides over the past year even as each accused the other of sandbagging talks.

A year ago, Democrats passed a bill that would have curtailed sharply Rauner's power in negotiations. He vetoed it, and the failure of an override effort in the House was a major victory for Rauner.

In January, the administration said negotiations were at an impasse and filed an unfair labor practices complaint against AFSCME with the Illinois Labor Relations Board. AFSCME filed a complaint accusing the administration of bargaining in bad faith.

The Labor Relations Board, whose members are appointed by the governor, heard the case from April to June, and the matter then was turned over to Administrative Law Judge Sarah Kerley, who will issue a recommendation to the board. Rauner in June asked that the judicial review process be skipped so the case could go directly to the board, but the board denied that request. Kerley said at the time she hoped to forward a recommendation in time for the board to discuss the case at its November meeting.

The board does not have to accept Kerley's recommendation, and its decision could be the most significant event in Rauner's term to date. A ruling in the union's favor would send the two sides back into negotiations. A decision for Rauner would allow the administration to impose its own terms. That would force the union to choose between accepting Rauner's contract, going on strike or suing to force continued negotiations.

Illinois never has had a state employee strike, nor has it ever had a governor who has taken on AFSCME with such ferocity. You may not have a seat at the bargaining table, and you can't cast a ballot for/against Rauner on Nov. 8, but AFSCME in this ad is making sure that the suspended negotiations don't get shoved to the back burner as election season hits its boiling point.

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