FA News: 3/3/2017

This missive includes various updates on what’s going on (mainly what’s not going on) at the state level. Spoiler: there is no good news here.

One suggestion: let your state legislators and the governor know that continued paralysis at Springfield is crippling public higher education. The IEA site includes a handy tool which allows you to look up addresses of your state (and federal) representatives. This weekend, State Senator Paul Schimpf is holding a Town Hall meeting in Mt. Vernon: a number of SIU faculty are planning to attend, so you’ll have some company if you make the trip. Here’s a link with more info: https://www.facebook.com/events/179791422518575/

1. AFSCME and our health insurance

As you’ve probably heard, members of AFSCME, the union that represents some 38,000 workers statewide, have voted to authorize their bargaining team to call a strike. 81% of AFSCME members voted yes, with an 80% turnout. An AFSCME strike would not directly affect us (the FA would not be legally able to strike in sympathy, though we would provide AFSCME with other forms of support). But the AFSCME negotiations (or rather the governor’s refusal to negotiate) will set our health insurance coverage and rates, since our health insurance is determined by the state’s contract with AFSCME.

Governor Rauner broke off negotiations with AFSCME over a year ago, claiming the two sides are at impasse, which would give him the legal authority to impose his last offer to the union. AFSCME has repeatedly called on him to return to the bargaining table, but Rauner won the latest substantive round  in the legal controversy as to whether he has the right to impose his terms. A lower court, however, subsequently issued a restraining order preventing him from imposing such terms until that decision could be appealed. Presumably AFSCME will exhaust its legal options before striking, but if they do not prevail in the courts, their only option will be strike or buckle and take the lousy deal that Rauner is offering. Rauner’s last offer includes much higher healthcare premium for workers AFSCME represents–and hence for us as well.

Attached you’ll find some documents that show the impact of Rauner’s plan. The excel file will allow you to calculate how much of a cut in take-home pay you’d get (in an absolute number and in percentage terms). The spreadsheet assumes that you choose to maintain your current level of coverage. It is only fair to note that Rauner’s proposal would also allow you to avoid this increase in costs–but only if you cut back accordingly on your insurance coverage (increasing deductibles, co-pays, out of pocket limits, etc.).

Those of us who remember the crisis of 2011 at SIU will be forgiven for seeing a certain similarity between the tactics employed by then Chancellor Cheng and those of Governor Rauner now: bargain, but without making any compromises, then hope the courts will support your claim that the two sides have reached an impasse so that you can impose your terms without securing the agreement of the union.

2. Lisa Madigan’s suit to force the state to sign a budget or stop paying workers

Another legal front has Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan suing to prevent the state from paying state workers until it passes a budget authorizing worker pay. Even if Madigan eventually prevails in court, the decision would not impact university employees, as President Dunn noted in a recent message, since we are not paid directly by the state but through the university. But if Madigan prevails there would be a huge impact on other state agencies, and immense pressure on the governor and legislature to pass a budget. Here too Rauner has won the latest round in the legal contest, this time siding with AFSCME (politics making for odd bedfellows) to argue that state workers should continue being paid even without a budget. Other rounds in this legal fight, too, are forthcoming.

3. Grand bargain update

As I write, it looks like the “Grand Bargain,” a plan worked out by Democratic State Senate President John Cullerton and Republican Minority Leader Christine Radogno, has been scuttled by opposition from Governor Rauner. Or that at least is what Cullerton is reporting, while praising Radogno for her willingness to work toward compromise. President Dunn’s latest message provides details on that compromise and what it would have meant for SIU; while Dunn supports the overall package, the IEA has come out against major parts of it, including Cullerton’s pension plan, which would force retirees to choose between losing their state health insurance coverage (beyond federal Medicare coverage, which they would of course retain) and losing their 3% cost of living adjustments.

It thus looks like Illinois is as far from a budget as ever, and universities may well have to hope for some sort of stopgap funding once again. The level of dysfunction in Springfield is absolutely astounding. The crisis will continue to damage SIUC. We in the FA will continue to do all we can to keep you informed, and to make sure faculty play a leading role in the difficult decisions SIU will face if the budget crisis continues.

In solidarity,
Dave Johnson
President, SIUC-FA

About Dave Johnson
I'm an Associate Professor in Classics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Among other things.

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