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Legislative Action

AFSCME contract: all is settled


This year's negotiations with the state's largest public employees' union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), offered all the ingredients for an executive-legislative confrontation. The potential conflict had its roots in the 1986 negotiations that led to a three-year contract with annual salary hikes of 4 percent, 4.5 percent and 5 percent. The contract took effect just before the 1986 gubernatorial election, in which Gov. James R. Thompson ran with the endorsement of AFSCME. Democrats have been sore since.

When negotiations began this year, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-30, Chicago) questioned whether the 1986 settlement was dictated by sound fiscal considerations or Thompson's political aspirations and dispatched observers to keep track of the process. Madigan noted that the General Assembly's prerogative would be to refuse to fund a contract it found unfair to taxpayers, but he stopped short of threatening not to include the pay hike money.

The contract approved in March by 93 percent of AFSCME members runs from July 1, 1989, until June 30, 1991. Those covered by the contract run from corrections officers to psychologists and from bank examiners to florists. The contract provides pay increases, improved insurance benefits and a program to help move employees out of dead-end jobs. Over two years the total new costs are $124 million.

For the 40,000 union workers the contract will add state costs of $39 million in the first year and an additional $51 million in the second. Another 9,000 workers for whom AFSCME does not bargain get the same salary increase, and most state employees and retirees benefit from the improved health insurance. Those indirect contract costs are $16 million in the first year and another $18 million in the second.

Madigan's observers never made it to the bargaining table, but they were briefed about the proceedings, and the speaker was satisfied with the results. Madigan advised his members: "The result is a contract that is consistent with growth in state revenues, fair to state employees, shorter in length (not locking us in to a long-term agreement), and timed so that the next contract will not be negotiated in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign."

The contract satisfied AFSCME members, who voted overwhelmingly to accept it, and the union negotiators. "We are proud of the gains we have made in this contract," said Steve Culen, director of AFSCME Council 31 and the union's chief negotiator.

Conflict was avoided. A Republican governor, a Democratic speaker and the members of the state's largest union are satisfied. All for $90 million.

Major contract provisions

Compensation: Each step on the seven-step salary schedule will be hiked by 3.5 percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1, and by 4.5 percent in the next. The cumulative increase is 8.2 percent, which ends up as the increase paid a worker at the top of the seventh step.

Upward Mobility Program: Training and career counseling will be implemented for persons stuck in dead-end jobs. The program's goals are to provide career paths and the necessary courses and counseling for persons to follow those paths to specifically targeted positions. Those who take the training will be eligible for appointment to the new positions based on "merit." The employee would begin in the new position at a pay step 5 percent above the current rate. The contract provides for $2.5 million in new funding for training in the 1990 fiscal year and $4 million in fiscal 1991.

Insurance: The contract reduces or holds constant what employees must pay to provide health insurance for their dependents. The state will continue to pay for employees' health insurance. For dependents the employee can choose between two levels of insurance. For the high option coverage for two dependents, the monthly cost will decline from $116.02 this year to $110.02 in the year beginning July 1 and $104.02 in the next year. For the low option coverage for two dependents the cost will continue at $67.18 per month. For employed who opt for more comprehensive Health Maintenance Organization coverage, the state will pick up 10 percent more of the dependent coverage each year, although rates are expected to rise more than 10 percent, which will increase the employee cost.

The new contract keeps dental insurance for employees and spouses at no cost, and it extends coverage to include child orthodontics, periodontics and dentures. The plan reimburses up to half the cost, with a $1,000 maximum for orthodontics and $1,500 for periodontics and dentures. The value of life insurance provided to employees at no cost will be increased from 50 percent of annual salary to 75 percent in the first year of the contract and to 100 percent in the second.

Overtime: The contract requires payment of time and a half for overtime put in by professionals after a 40-hour week. It prevents, the union says, the situation where child protective caseworkers who work late one night are told to come in later the next day and end up unable to hold to a schedule.

Health: Allows pregnant or nursing workers who operate video display terminals to request an assignment change, and if one cannot be made, to seek leave for the duration of the pregnancy or the nursing. Some studies have shown that exposure to the cathode ray tubes in the computer terminals are harmful.

Agency Fees: Brings approximately 4,500 members of the unit that includes clerical, data processing and technical services workers under the Fair Share plan. Non-AFSCME employees will pay an "agency fee" of 87 percent of union dues for reimbursing the union for its expenses of collective bargaining and handling grievances. The fees vary by local bargaining units, but average around $150 per year, according to AFSCME. The union will receive almost $700,000 in fees from that unit.

Holidays: Despite hard bargaining, there are still 13 paid holidays, one of which is general election day in years that members of the Illinois House are elected.

Unused Sick Days: Retained is a controversial provision that authorizes payment to employees for half the unused sick time accrued since 1984. Designed to curb abuse of sick time, the provision has been criticized as too expensive in some quarters.□

July 1989 | Illinois Issues | 34

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