Governor Bruce Rauner's refusal to compromise and agree to a state budget is tearing at the fabric of our state's human service and higher education infrastructure. Families, children, students and seniors are suffering. They're collateral damage in Rauner's crusade to eliminate the unions through which working people have a voice, exercise their rights and raise their standard of living.
The governor is taking the same his-way-or-no-way approach to a new union contract for public service workers in state government. In January his administration broke off talks, walked away and has since refused to even meet with our union bargaining committee.
Instead of negotiating, Rauner wants to force state workers to accept his demands. They include doubling health care costs, going four years without any pay increases and ending safeguards against irresponsible privatization deals.
If the state labor board paves the way for Rauner to impose these harsh terms, employees' only means of resistance would be to go out on strike. Everyone would feel the pain of a statewide shutdown: Who would protect children from abuse, care for veterans and people with disabilities, provide food stamps and Medicaid, or maintain state parks? Meanwhile, state employees on the picket line would be deprived of their livelihoods.
Unfortunately, this is the scenario Bruce Rauner promoted starting on the campaign trail when he promised to "shut down state government" in order to "re-do everybody's contract". State employees, on the other hand, want to do everything possible to avoid a strike. They're committed to the public services they provide and the citizens who depend on them.
With the governor's brand of demolition politics hurting Illinois, state employees can't just roll over to his damaging demands. With no protections against privatization, state services could be contracted out for private profit, without regard to quality, efficiency or jobs lost. And the ability of employees to bring home family-sustaining wages would be hit hard. Under Rauner's terms, every state and university employee would lose $10,000 over three years from paying double health insurance premiums.
That's not fair, it's not affordable for families, and it would have a profoundly harmful effect on local economies. Just in the greater Springfield area, Rauner's cuts would reduce families' income by more than $167 million. That's money that could no longer pay bills or support small businesses.
Instead of trying to cut the income of working people, harming their families and communities, Governor Rauner should stand up to the big corporations that get more than $2 billion in tax giveaways from the state of Illinois every year. He should support changing the state income-tax structure that now allows millionaires to pay a lower effective rate than average working families.
But since the governor persists in picking on the little guys (and gals) instead of standing up to the big boys, our legislators must act. House Bill 580, the fair arbitration bill, would provide every state employee with the same dispute resolution procedures that Illinois correctional officers, state troopers, firefighters and police officers already have. That's the ability to involve a neutral arbitrator, an independent third party, to help reach a contract settlement without a strike.
The fair arbitration bill passed the state Senate and House last summer. The governor vetoed it, vowing in writing to remain at the bargaining table and keep working toward a settlement. In January he broke that pledge, walking away from negotiations and setting out to unilaterally impose his own terms. That's why lawmakers passed the bill again this spring, and why every legislator -- regardless of political party -- should reject his heavy-handed tactics by overriding his expected veto of HB 580.