Just over a week ago, we posted about Executive Order 15-13, which attempted to move all fair-share dues for public sector employees directly under the Governor’s control into an escrow account until the courts decide whether or not fair share violates the First Amendment rights of non-card-signing workers. On Friday, Comptroller Leslie Munger, backed by the attorney general’s office, announced that she would not be following the EO.
We all breathed a sigh of relief. Munger’s decision not to enforce it indicates that Rauner’s war on unions would not be won easily. But, don’t mistake this victory the end of the war. We have no doubt that Rauner’s attacks on unions will continue.
Here’s a small sample of what he’s proposed since taking office:
- “Common sense” rules about collective bargaining that would prevent workers from negotiation over wages and benefits and make striking and work slow-downs illegal.
- “Empowerment zones,” where local voters would decide whether or not to allow fair-share unions to exist. This strategy allows Rauner to turn Illinois into a right-to-work state one municipality or county at a time, sidestepping the legislature.
- Although EO 15-13 is not being enforced, part of it has yet to play out. Rauner has lawyer Phil Beck to bring the matter through the federal courts. In Justice Alito’s statements following the Harris v. Quinn decision last summer, he indicated that he would welcome hearing a case on fair share that would have broader implications than Harris. Depending on the path EO 15-13 takes through the courts, it might provide Alito with an opportunity to shut down fair share nationally.
Wednesday, Governor Rauner proposed a 31.5% budget cut for higher education in Illinois. GEO co-President Jen Phillis and Therese Quinn, a member of UIC-United Faculty’s Representative Assembly, had some things to say about the proposed cut. While that budget will be negotiated on in the legislature, it’s very likely UIC will be facing massive cuts in the coming year. We’ve seen before that the administration takes cuts out on faculty, staff, and students, while still providing administrators with massive salaries and six-figure merit bonuses. We don’t expect that this round of budget cuts to be any different. Less than a week before the Institute for the Humanities announced that it would be cancelling its doctoral fellowships due to budget cuts, the Board of Trustees approved a $98,400 bonus for outgoing Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares. The Board seems to have two budgets: one for education (always shrinking, always under threat) and one for administrators (always growing, always paying out).
The GEO is in a tenuous position. We can’t rely on the legislature to protect union rights, especially with the possibility of a federal court decision. We can’t rely on the legislature to protect funding for higher ed, either: budget cuts are coming.
So, what do we do? We organize.
The end of fair share, whether it comes this year or in ten years, will have less impact on the GEO if we have a strong majority of card-signing, active members. It will be harder for the administration to use graduate employees to balance their budget if we’re a strong union. If being in a union–which gives you the right to negotiate your wages and benefits, improve your working conditions, and ensure the contract is enforced–matters to you, then it’s time to get involved. Here’s how:
- Attend one of GEO’s Rauner Lunches. Staff and members will be on hand to run through the Governor’s proposals, what they mean for GEO, and what they indicate about our future. Four are currently planned; if you’d like to host one in your department or building, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- Talk to your colleagues. Tell them why you’re an active union member and why it matters to you. Ask them what they’re worried about at work: are their offices and labs safe? Are they asked to work more hours or different duties than assigned? Are their wages enough to cover the fees charged by the university? If you want some training on how to talk to colleagues, contact email@example.com.
- Join the joint Stewards’ Council/Organizing Committee. Our stewards and organizing team are the eyes and ears of the union. They let us know when something’s amiss, and let our members know what’s going on at GEO HQ. Our next meeting is Wednesday, March 4th at 5PM, in the GEO Offices.
Rauner’s war on unions is just beginning. Let’s meet him full-force.