Monday, January 10, 2011

Some state workers could lose union protection

By Jamey Dunn

The Illinois House today passed a measure that would potentially bar state employees who work for executive officers and hold supervisory powers from joining unions and participating in collective bargaining.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, the sponsor of Senate Bill 3644, said the percentage of state employees who are union members has grown from less than 80 percent in 2002 to almost 96 percent currently. According to Currie, there are about 1,600 petitions to join the union before the labor board, which would take the number up to almost 99 percent.

Currie said that is a problem because workers who deal primarily with policy decisions or supervise others need to be loyal to the governor instead of unions.

“My sense is that somewhere around 90 percent is probably reasonable and probably realistic,” she said. “I think that here has to be a balance between management and workers, and I think that we have unbalanced our work force in the state of Illinois.”

Opponents called on the Gov. Pat Quinn to work out the issue by negotiating with the unions.

Harrisburg Democratic Rep. Brandon Phelps, a former union organizer, said: “I’ve seen firsthand many employees that are getting passed for promotions, not being treated fairly by their boss or bosses. I’ve seen favoritism over one employee to another. That’s why a lot of these people have joined unions. … I believe this is a horrible precedent that we are setting here. I know that AFSCME and all the other unions are willing to negotiate this. “

Currie responded, “There have been negotiations that were not fruitful.”

Henry Bayer, executive director of Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), characterized the bill as “anti-union.” He said it is not specific enough about which workers would be included. While Currie said the bill is intended to cover fewer than 200 employees, union officials are concerned that future administrations could apply it to many more positions.

Currie said the Labor Relations Board would have the final say on who could be in the union and who could not, but her bill would allow the governor to ask the board to reconsider some job titles, something that she said cannot be achieved through negotiations. “The collective bargaining process never suggests that unions should voluntarily give up membership.”

Currie added, “Our managers are not managing state government.”

In other legislative action today, the Illinois Senate passed a measure that would eliminate a controversial program created by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The issue of whether the state should continue giving all senior citizens free rides on mass transit became a political hot potato during the regular legislative session. A compromise was reached in the Senate after longtime proponent of the program, Chicago Democratic Sen. Rickey Hendon, signed on, but then it stalled in the House.

The new measure, which the House passed yesterday, would limit free rides to only seniors whose income levels qualify for state assistance programs, such as a state pharmaceutical aid program. Seniors who do not qualify would get to ride for half price. No legislators spoke in opposition of SB3778 on either the House or Senate floors before each chamber took a vote.

“It’s about time,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Lemont Republican, who has been pushing to roll the program back.

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