Court slaps Rauner, labor panel on 'impasse'

AFSCME Council 31 urges governor to return to bargaining table in good faith

AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch criticizes Gov. Rauner, joined by Comptroller Susana Mendoza, at a news conference earlier this month. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch criticizes Gov. Rauner, joined by Comptroller Susana Mendoza, at a news conference earlier this month. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Gov. Rauner was wrong to declare an impasse in negotiations with a top union of state employees, and his appointed labor board was “clearly erroneous” in rubber-stamping that decision, according to an appellate-court decision handed down this week.

The three-judge Fourth District Appellate Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that the Rauner-appointed Illinois Labor Relations Board “was in error” when it backed the impasse the governor declared in negotiations with the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees Council 31 at the beginning of 2016, a year after he took office.

According to the union, Rauner declared the negotiating impasse in a bid to impose his final contract offer on workers, which would have included what AFSCME called “an array of extreme demands, including no pay increase for state workers for four years, a 100 percent hike in employee costs for health care that would cost the average worker thousands of dollars a year, and a free hand to privatize public services without oversight.”

The court ruled the board ignored 30 years of precedent in siding with Rauner on the declared impasse, and sent the decision back to the board to be reconsidered. It also slapped the governor for stonewalling on information the union requested as part of those negotiations. The ruling stated that “parties may not claim a lawful impasse if they have failed to provide information considered relevant to those issues upon which they disagree because this effectively frustrates the bargaining process.”

Rauner spokeswoman Elizabeth Tomev emphasized that the ruling did not declare that there wasn’t an impasse, just that the case should return to the Illinois Labor Relations Board.

“The appellate court did not determine whether or not AFSCME and the state are at impasse,” Tomev said. “Instead, it sent the case back to the ILRB to more fully explain its original impasse decision or, in the alternative, to apply a different legal test for impasse.” She added, “The state is considering options for appeal of the decision to the Supreme Court. “

AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch cheered the ruling and urged the governor to return to the bargaining table. “Refusing to negotiate in good faith and trying to impose his extreme demands are part of a pattern of behavior for Bruce Rauner,” she said in a statement. “Instead of doing his job as governor, his overriding goal has been to weaken unions, especially those in the public service.”

Lynch added that the ruling “backs up what we’ve said all along — there never was an impasse. The Rauner administration should immediately come back to the bargaining table with our union instead of wasting more taxpayer money on losing litigation.”

Lynch recently chided the governor for ignoring a court decision a year ago that called on him to honor so-called step increases in the union contract as negotiations continue.

Rauner has repeatedly sought to rile the union, most prominently in the Janus v. AFSCME case he initiated, which won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer striking down so-called fair-share union fees. The union represents about 35,000 state employees.