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.
When I worked for the Illinois legislature back in the 1980s, most of these positions were typically held by persons who served at the discretion of the governor--the few jobs a new governor could place political appointees without running afoul of the so-called Shakman decree that protected all but policy-making positions in state and local government from politically-motivated hiring, firing and promotion considerations. A very revealing statistic in the face of the massive unionization effort in Illinois state government is the precipitous drop in the number of state employees during the same period due to budget cuts. "State records show there were about 67,000 employees reporting to the governor when Blagojevich took office [in 2003], compared to 49,967 in February, according to the Department of Central Management Services," the AP reports. That's 25% fewer state employees over the past eight years.
Not surprisingly, even Democrats in Illinois are worried about the dominating influence of unions over state government, including Gov. Pat Quinn, who has been highly critical of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Keller's efforts to curtail collective bargaining rights of state and local workers in that 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 elsewhere.
Gov. Pat Quinn's office is pressing a key union to give up several thousand new members. If negotiations fail, Democratic lawmakers likely will 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?
What is remarkable is the fact that despite Illinois shedding 25% of its workforce over the past 8 years it still faces a multi-billion dollar deficit and one of the worst unfunded pension systems in the country--even after enacting the largest tax increases in the state's history. The AP notes unionization slowed under the prior Republican governors because there were fewer changes in job titles than under Blagojevich. After Blagojevich took over in 2003, his administration signed into law a bill making it easier for state employees to join unions and changed many job titles, while also implementing a practice of freezing the pay of non-unionized employees to save money in the budget, all of which encouraged greater unionization efforts.
Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a very liberal Democrat from Chicago, is introducing legislation to curtail collective bargaining rights among state workers. "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." "[Her] proposal would rule out unionization for top-level policymaking employees — those who offer 'meaningful input into government decision-making,'" the AP reports. "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." "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."
Contrast the situation in Illinois with that of Indiana where Gov. Mitch Daniels in one of his first acts as governor signed an executive order repealing the right of state workers to collectively bargain. Is it any wonder Indiana has not had to resort to massive tax increases to balance its state budget?