Monday, June 23, 2008
By Bethany Jaeger
Illinois starts a new fiscal year in seven days. That means some new state laws take effect July 1. But also, for the first time in history, many public employees could have to work without a contract in place with the administration. Four years ago, the state’s largest public employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, negotiated a contract with the administration that spells out how much employees make and how much they pay for such benefits as health care and retirement.
This year’s negotiations between union officials and Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration have stretched about seven months, potentially creating the first time that Illinois’ AFSCME Council 31 won’t have an agreement in place before the existing contract expires. “That alone shows the level of contentiousness and the distance between the parties is unprecedented,” says Anders Lindall, union spokesman.
The lion’s share of the disagreement is health care, he says, but it’s complicated by the sagging economy. “It’s higher health care costs, higher pension costs, coupled with pay increases that don’t even keep pace. And at a time when people are being socked at the gas pump, they’re being soaked at the grocery checkout and everywhere else for higher cost of living, to have health care and to have pension funds going through the roof, it’s not acceptable. It’s not [the making] of a fair contract agreement.”
Negotiations continue this week after a few thousand union supporters rallied at the Capitol today. Neither the administration nor union officials would comment on what happens if the contract expires before they reach an agreement. They would only say they’re continuing “good faith negotiations” and are mindful of each other’s concerns.
Local union leaders and members gathered at the Capitol wearing green T-shirts and waving signs that said, “Governor, don’t cut our health care.” Marion Murphy, caseworker for the Illinois Department of Human Services, AFSCME Local 2806, is on the bargaining committee and spoke during the rally. She cited Blagojevich’s priority to ensure all residents can access quality and affordable health care. “But I guess he forgot about us,” she said. “Why should we be left out in the cold? He’s got the All Kids program, but what about our kids?”
The number of vacancies also repeatedly came up, including the speech by Louis Volpi, president of AFSCME Local 1591 and employee of Tinley Park Mental Health Center and Howe Developmental Center. He said during the rally that the administration refuses to fill vacancies even though workers are forced to work overtime, as required by their contracts. His statements reflect a situation I wrote about in Illinois Issues magazine this month. We're waiting to get the actual number of vacancies from the Illinois Department of Human Services.
The state budget approved by the General Assembly May 31 hasn’t made it to the governor’s desk for review yet, preventing the governor from acting on solutions to what his office says is a $2 billion gap between spending and revenues. The legislature has until June 30 to send it over. Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said it’s normal for such a huge bill to take the full 30 days allotted by law to process the legislation.
NEW STATE LAWS
By Patrick O’Brien
Also on July 1, some new state laws go into effect. A few examples follow. The full text of the laws and other information can be found at www.ilga.gov.
SB 1268 (of the 94th General Assembly) The state’s minimum wage rises to $7.75 an hour beginning July 1. About 650,000 Illinoisans will see an increase, according to the governor’s office. The raise is part of a gradual increase of the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour by 2010.
SB 172 (Starts in third paragraph.) Student drivers will have to complete at least six hours of actual, on-the-street driving with a certified instructor when a new law goes into effect next week. It’s part of a reform package enacted last year to address accident rates among teen drivers. This portion of law eliminates the provision that allows students in high-school driver’s education classes to take a written exam after completing three hours of practice driving. It also removes current exemptions that allow the use of driving simulators and driving ranges as a substitute for street driving.
Home care pay increases
HB 4144 State home health care workers who provide housekeeping services will earn $1.70 an hour more beginning July 1, and the law also provides an additional $1.33 per hour for health care insurance for the workers. The total cost to the state is $64 million.
Truth in towing
SB 435 Any towing service that tows or removes a vehicle with the permission of the owner or person in control of the auto has to provide an estimated cost of towing. The document must be signed by both the tow truck driver and the driver of the vehicle.