Among State Workers, Union Membership Surges
Northwest Herald (AP)
March 24, 2011
SPRINGFIELD (AP) - It's getting lonely at the top of
Illinois state government.
In the past eight years, more than 10,000 state
employees have joined unions, a four-fold increase over
the previous eight years, according to records analyzed
by The Associated Press.
If pending requests are approved by the Illinois Labor
Relations Board, nearly 97 percent of state workers
would be represented by unions - including many
employees once considered management. Only 1,700
"bosses" would be left out of nearly 50,000 state
While Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and other
states move to throttle the influence of state employee
unions, the surge in Illinois' union membership worries
even traditionally union-friendly Democrats, who fear it
could harm the effective management of government.
It has put them in the awkward position of trying to
smother union growth even as they criticize GOP curbs
Gov. Pat Quinn's office is pressing a key union to give
up several thousand new members. If negotiations fail,
Democratic lawmakers will likely resurrect proposed
legislation to limit union-eligible jobs and rescind
union coverage for thousands of people.
Quinn said earlier this month that Wisconsin GOP Gov.
Scott Walker "should be ashamed of himself" for pushing
through a new law that rolls back state workers' right
to collective bargaining. But Quinn's effort to scale
back union growth is "incongruous" with his and other
Democrats' statements on Wisconsin, said Anders Lindall,
spokesman for the American Federation of State, County
and Municipal Employees.
A Quinn aide said there's no contradiction between the
governor's two positions.
"We strongly support union representation and collective
bargaining for many state workers, but the union system
only works when there are workers and managers,"
spokeswoman Annie Thompson said. "Without this bill, we
are looking at a situation where there is virtually no
management at a variety of agencies and facilities."
Without managers, critics of the union growth maintain,
who will stay late to get a project done? Will a boss
take proper disciplinary steps against an underling if
the two belong to the same union? If a union member is
given confidential information, is his first loyalty to
the governor or the union?
Pending requests to unionize have come from employees
whose jobs traditionally fell into the category of
"boss:" prison wardens and their assistants, state
agencies' chief fiscal officers, deputy agency
directors, chiefs of staff, senior personnel officers
and liaisons to the Legislature at social service,
employment and regulatory agencies, according to the AP
analysis of Labor Relations Board records.
Since 2003, when Gov. Rod Blagojevich took office, about
10,100 state employees under Quinn's control have joined
unions - 75 percent of them lining up with AFSCME,
records show. That's more than four times the 2,200 who
joined from 1995 to 2003.
The earlier period coincides with a widespread change in
job titles, which slowed organizing while authorities
sorted out who was eligible, Lindall said. But a bigger
reason for the recent surge, he added, was the way
Blagojevich dealt with state employees.
The former governor, who was impeached and faces a
retrial on corruption charges next month, froze wages of
non-union management employees for years, trying to hold
down costs. While the Democrat signed a law making it
easier to organize a union, he was vocal in criticizing
state workers and bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, budget cuts caused a sharp reduction in the
workforce. State records show there were about 67,000
employees reporting to the governor when Blagojevich
took office, compared to 49,967 in February, according
to the Department of Central Management Services.
"People were treated very shabbily by the Blagojevich
administration," Lindall said. "They wanted to join the
union for protections in the workplace but also to have
a voice and win respect on the job."
The more union representation grows, the more it absorbs
jobs that lawmakers traditionally considered management.
Currently, the Labor Relations Board is considering 31
applications seeking unionization for more than 1,100
employees. That would bump up the number of unionized
state employees to 96.5 percent from 94.3 percent,
according to an analysis of CMS numbers.
In Wisconsin, about 60 percent of the state's employees
"I don't believe labor was ever intended to save the
whole workforce," said House Majority Leader Barbara
Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the
legislation to roll back the union membership. "Always,
there was the idea that there is management, there is a
place where the policy is set, where the buck stops."
Currie's legislation, which would redefine who's
eligible for unionization, died in a lame-duck
legislative session in January. But, pending the results
of Quinn's negotiations with AFSCME, lawmakers are
prepared to re-introduce a slimmed-down version of
The new proposal would rule out unionization for top-
level policymaking employees - those who offer
"meaningful input into government decision-making." It
also would rescind collective bargaining rights for
those types of employees allowed to join unions since
December 2008. The board has approved unionization for
more than 4,300 workers since then.
Drawing the line between boss and union worker often
depends on point of view, said Robert Bruno, director of
the labor education program at the University of
Illinois at Chicago.
"I don't think you can find anybody who can give you a
non-ideological answer to that," Bruno said. "When they
give you an answer, they're going to be making a
statement of whether they think collective bargaining's
a good thing or a bad thing."
But Currie argues that a manager who's in a union could
have divided loyalties that might affect important
policy decisions. She noted a number of potential
problems if the pending applications are approved.
"In the Department on Aging, there would be one person
besides the director who is not part of a collective
bargaining unit," she said. "I don't know how you run a
correctional facility if all the assistant wardens are
part of the bargaining unit."
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