All eyes were on Springfield over the Independence Day holiday weekend as Illinois lawmakers attempted to end the state’s multiyear budget impasse. But there’s another impasse at play: On July 1, Illinois entered its third year without a contract for approximately 35,000 state workers.
What’s the reason for this impasse? The union representing state workers is demanding luxury benefits taxpayers simply cannot afford.
The state’s contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ran through June 30, 2015. Since the contract’s expiration as of July 2015, the union has refused every offer from the state.
Negotiations came to a halt in January 2016 when an AFSCME negotiator left a meeting stating, “I have nothing else to say and am not interested in hearing what you have to say at this point – carry that message back to your principals.”
Here is what is at the crux of the stalemate: AFSCME is demanding platinum-level insurance at rock-bottom prices, overtime after just 37.5 hours in a workweek, and payroll increases up to 29 percent.
These demands, among others, would cost the state $3 billion in salary and benefit increases.
That’s not the total cost of the contract AFSCME is demanding. That’s what AFSCME wants on top of already-generous benefits offered by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
But as everyone knows, the state is broke. And state workers already have a sweet deal.
AFSCME workers receive, on average, nearly $110,000 in total annual compensation. In fact, Illinois state workers are the highest-paid state workers in the nation when adjusted for cost of living. Between 2005 and 2014, AFSCME worker salaries grew five times faster than Illinois workers’ earnings and increased at twice the rate of inflation.
After retirement, AFSCME employees receive free health insurance simply by having worked 20 or more years. Career state retirees on average receive $1.6 million in pension benefits over the course of their retirement, in addition to Social Security.
The state’s last offer to AFSCME took into account Illinois’ fiscal reality and included provisions that are fair to both workers and taxpayers: A 40-hour workweek before overtime kicks in. A temporary pay freeze of state worker incomes, which have already outpaced private-sector income growth and inflation. And provisions requiring state workers to pay 40 percent of their health insurance, with the state continuing to subsidize 60 percent – which means the state would still pay $11,600 per worker annually, a significant amount by any standard.
But AFSCME leadership ignores these tremendous benefits and wants more. It has even insisted the state raise taxes in order to meet its demands.
AFSCME’s position is stunning in light of Illinois’ fiscal woes. Nearly $15 billion in unpaid bills. A pension debt of $130 billion. People leaving the state in droves.
Anyone can see the state of Illinois has no money to pay for AFSCME’s extravagant demands. But as the state approaches a fiscal precipice, the union seems ready to push taxpayers off the ledge to get what it wants.