There’s a fun little food fight breaking out in the state of Illinois this week which is sure to have public worker union advocates spitting nails. There was a recent vote among members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union authorizing a strike if Governor Bruce Rauner did not cave in to their demands. In response, the governor set up a new website inviting citizens to apply for government positions. He wasn’t making any secret of what was going on here, saying that it was imperative to keep the business of the people in business. In other words, if the union decides to walk out and off the job, the government clearly plans to find people who are willing to do the work. (Reuters)
The website, Working for a Better Illinois, asks residents to supply contact information if they are interested in employment in accounting, clerical work, data processing, public safety, construction, engineering, maintenance and other areas.
“Although individuals would be hired on a temporary basis in response to the strike, the state would then begin taking the steps necessary to fill positions permanently,” the governor’s office said.
The strike threat comes as Illinois is limping through a record-setting second consecutive fiscal year without a complete budget due to an ongoing feud between Rauner and Democrats who control the legislature. A six-month budget for fiscal 2017 expired on Dec. 31.
This move has the union up in arms with cries of “SCABS” filling the public airways. But unlike in the private sector, when union workers walk out on government jobs it’s the entire state which suffers, not just a single private employer. This type of hardball negotiation is long overdue when it comes to government worker unions.
But what are the specific demands driving the current negotiations to this precipice? Well, there are quite a few, and if you happened to be an Illinois taxpayer they should probably be setting your teeth on edge. One of the first and biggest complaints coming from union officials is the fact that the state is asking the workers to pick up an increased share of their healthcare coverage premiums. How unreasonable! At least until you consider the fact that, as the Illinois Policy website describes it, the states union workers are receiving platinum level benefits while paying bronze level prices.
AFSCME workers receive platinum-level health benefits, but on average only pay bronze-level prices, meaning the average worker ends up paying for less than a quarter of his or her health care, which costs $19,332 a year. State taxpayers subsidize the rest.
On average, taxpayers pick up nearly $15,000 annually in health care costs for every AFSCME worker’s platinum-level plan.
But that’s not all the health care benefits that AFSCME workers receive.
State employees who work 20 years or more for the state also receive free health insurance during their retirement. This additional benefit has a cash value of anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 for individual retirees, all paid for by taxpayers. In contrast, such a benefit is nearly unheard of in the private sector.
I’ll just pause for a moment here and allow those of you in the private sector to ponder the fact that the Illinois state union workers are kicking in less than a quarter of the cost of their coverage and compare that to what you are currently paying.
But it gets worse, as noted in the excerpt above. That’s a pretty sweet deal for those who are actively on the clock, but in many cases, those state workers who retire receive absolutely free healthcare coverage for the rest of their lives. Who the heck gets a deal like that? But now they want to threaten to cut off public services if they’re asked to pay a larger share out-of-pocket for that level of benefits and security.
Healthcare pricing isn’t the only complaint being registered by those threatening to go on strike. They are also upset that the governor would like to see overtime pay not begin until someone has actually worked 40 hours in a given week. Currently overtime begins after 37.5 hours. What is this, Europe? Who doesn’t work a 40 hour week for a “full-time job?” And as if that wasn’t enough, all of these benefits come on top of base pay rates (in a state which is going broke rapidly) which are, to say the least, generous in the extreme. Check out where Illinois ranks on that scale.
These state workers are literally the highest paid in the nation on average. That might be a proud fact to boast about if your state is so well run and flush with cash that you can afford such generosity. Sadly, that’s pretty much the exact opposite of a description of the government of Illinois.
The state simply can’t afford these massively luxurious benefits. And if any of these public-sector workers were forced to spend any time in the private sector these days they would probably be thanking their lucky stars for even a deal such as the one currently being offered by the governor. In the end, it’s the taxpaying voters who have to make these decisions. Do you want to keep electing people who will bow to the demands of the government worker unions while you watch your state falling into bankruptcy? Or is it more reasonable to allow the government to hire some new workers, avoid a strike and continue providing basic services? This is a question which will be faced by many other states in the coming months and years so Illinois should provide an interesting and informative test case to watch.