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May 31, 2023

State contract negotiations heat up

The AFSCME State of Illinois Bargaining Committee has been at the bargaining table for months now. With no clear signs that the Management Bargaining Committee recognizes the importance of the work that state employees do, union members are beginning to take more forceful actions to secure a fair contract.

Local 472, Sheridan Correctional Center

On April 17, AFSCME members throughout the state stood up to show solidarity with their bargaining committee and make their fight for a fair contract visible to management. Wearing green stickers emblazoned with “Fair Contract!”, AFSCME members from dozens of state locals brought their contract activism directly to their workplaces. The following week, they began papering their desks, cars, worksites and homes with “Fair Contract!” signs.

Union members are also taking to social media, posting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #WeMakeIllinoisWork.

The current master contract expires on June 30. Negotiations have been ongoing since early this year.

The initial rounds of negotiations focused on expanding job rights, as well as common-sense proposals to address the understaffing crisis. While some progress was made on those fronts, there are still big differences remaining.

Now that the parties have also exchanged economic proposals, the differences have grown exponentially.

Union bargaining committee members have been shocked by the administration’s unwillingness to acknowledge the sacrifices that state employees have made over the past four years, the ongoing stress they face on the job due to understaffing, and the negative impact that inflation has had on their take-home pay.

“We’re putting fair proposals out there and being met with resistance,” said Dan Jackson, the president of AFSCME Local 2794 and a military maintenance engineer in the Department of Military Affairs. “What the state is offering is nowhere near what we need.

The inflation rate has been through the roof. We’ve lost ground and we need to make it up.”

Just as disturbing to state workers is management’s proposal to drastically increase health insurance costs and make it more difficult for employees and their families to access the health care they need.

Christina Carter, a member of the bargaining committee from AFSCME Local 38 at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, said she found management’s health insurance proposals “concerning.”

Local 141, Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center

“If our health care costs would increase the way management wants them to, we’d be working to pay for health care,” Carter said. “We can’t provide for our families that way.”

On top of that, management wants changes that could force employees to work even more overtime, despite the fact that thousands of state employees are already working dangerous and damaging amounts of overtime now.

Ramping up

In the coming weeks, local union leadership will be organizing workplace rallies, setting up phone banks to directly reach AFSCME members known to be working remotely, and more.

Members of the Bargaining Committee said that it will take the involvement of all AFSCME members to win this fight.

“The Bargaining Committee is the voice, but it will take the actions of all members that will ultimately help negotiations move forward,” said Arnold Black, a public service administrator in the Department of Children and Family Services and the president of Local 2971. “We need to show management that we all stand together in solidarity to fight for what’s right for all state employees.”

“AFSCME always fights,” said Cody Dornes, the president of AFSCME Local 46 at East Moline Correctional Center. “We’re going have to have to keep fighting just like we always do until we get what we deserve.”