FILE - AFSCME

Members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees union listen to AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer speak during a forum in this 2012 file photo.

Members of the state's largest employee union ratified a new contract, but just how much the four-year deal will cost remains unclear.

The contract includes more than 11.5 percent in raises over four years for nearly 40,000 employees, a $625 stipend for every year an employee worked without a contract during the four years of former Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration, and other benefits.

“Public service workers in state government clearly believe this contract is fair for all,” American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said.

Just how much the four-year deal will cost taxpayers is unclear. Union officials, the governor's office and the Illinois Comptroller's Office didn't immediately return messages seeking information about the cost of the contract.

Wirepoints President Ted Dabrowski said that’s a disservice to the people who will pay for the new contract.

“I’m really bothered by the fact that they would do this and negotiate in the dark,” Dabrowski said. “It’s not surprising. It’s been the game. But Gov. [J.B.] Prtizker promised transparency and this is the exact opposite of transparency where he negotiates a deal, nobody knows about it, it’s stuck in a budget and we still don’t know the cost.”

A House Democratic analysis of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget that will be enacted next week did indicate some increased costs, but there wasn’t a total for higher employee costs. More than half of the $601 million supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year 2019 measure included $340 million for union backpay from fiscal years 2016-18.

The document includes various lines throughout for tens of thousands of dollars in step-raises for various departments. For example, the overview of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, “includes $1.2 million increase in personal services and related expenses related to AFSCME” and an additional “$355,000 increase in personal services and related expenses to AFSCME.”

The Department of Insurance's overview noted it fully funds “agency staff and operations, including $4 million for bargaining unit increases and staff annualization.”

The Department of Human Services budget increased 6 percent to $6.9 billion from the previous year.

“Included in this are annualized step increases for AFSCME employees,” a budget analysis document said.

“The new contract strengthens employee protections against excessive forced overtime, expands maternity and paternity leave, creates a new labor-management body to reduce the threat of violence in the workplace and improve worker safety, preserves accountability standards for privatization proposals and creates new protections to safeguard employees’ private information,” the union said in a statement over the weekend.

A document with some contract details that was leaked last week said it would prohibit providing any information pertaining to bargaining unit employees to any third-party entity unless required to do so by law.

Before members ratified the union's first contract in four years, Pritzker said his campaign was about putting “Springfield back on the side of working families,” and that the state’s labor movement is strong.

“Even under withering attack by my predecessor, they have survived and they’ve done well,” Pritzker said.

While the previous administration Bruce Rauner was able to come to new contract terms with around a dozen smaller state employee unions, it’s negotiations over various issues with AFSCME Council 31 hit a roadblock in early 2016, six months after the union's contract expired. Round after round of court proceedings over whether there was an impasse ultimately led to the court siding with the union near the end of Rauner's term.

“The Rauner era was one of hostility to working people and chaos in state government,” Lynch said in a statement. “AFSCME members got through it by standing together and refusing to be bullied. Now state employees have a fair contract and, in Gov. Pritzker, an employer who respects their voice and values their work.”

Dabrowski said Rauner was trying to hold the line on costs.

“What he was trying to do was slow down the increases in compensation that state workers have been seeing over the past couple of decades,” Dabrowski said. “Salaries have gone up and are now the second highest in the nation for state workers. The pensions are over nearly $1.8 million lifetime pensions, plus social security. Workers get free retiree healthcare after 20 years of work.”

“The government has become way too expensive for the ordinary Illinoisans to afford,” Dabrowski said. “Gov. Rauner was right to slow down these increases and Gov. Pritzker has ignored all of that and … it’s going to come at strong expense to taxpayers.”

The union endorsed Pritzker in the 2016 election.

Dabrowski said the bottom line is taxpayers will be paying more.

“It adds up over time into huge numbers and Pritzker’s not worried about the ordinary Illinoisan who has to pay those bills. They’re struggling in Illinois’ economy and yet they're being forced to pay more and more taxes for benefits that they can’t afford,” Dabrowski said.

He also said the union's exclusivity over the bargaining unit needed to change, especially in light of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME, which freed public sector employees from being forced to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

“[After] the Janus decision, the union still wants to have exclusivity, they still want to control all bargaining even for those people who aren’t paying to be in the union or who don’t want to be represented by the union,” Dabrowski said. “So at some point, we should remove AFSCME to have the exclusive rights to negotiate for everybody. That has to change.”

Staff Writer

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.