WE ARE AFSCME.
THE UNION THAT NEVER QUITS.
Important Updates For State Employees From AFSCME Council 31
— June 14, 2022
Remote Work MOU Extended
The coronavirus pandemic has upended traditional work arrangements as employers across all sectors seek to ensure that work can be done efficiently and safely. One option that emerged from the earliest days of the COVID outbreak was the potential for certain types of work to be done remotely from employees’ homes. It took some technological fixes and personal adjustments but thousands of employees across state government began to develop new patterns for meeting the needs of the public they serve.
DoIT, EPA, DHS, DCFS, HFS and a number of other agencies all shifted at least some part of their operations to remote work over the course of many months. In order to ensure that such programs were implemented equitably, AFSCME Council 31 entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DCMS which established a six-month Remote Work Pilot Program—setting a framework for the union and management in each state agency to negotiate specific criteria for such programs that could meet the operational needs of that agency. The pilot programs were to run through January 31, 2022.
However, in a number of agencies those negotiations got off to a very slow start and as a result the pilot programs never really got a chance to “pilot" so the MOU was extended through June 30, 2022. With the June 30 pilot termination date now looming, AFSCME has been pressing CMS to extend the Remote Work MOU through the end of the calendar year in order to allow for genuine testing of the remote work model.
While CMS did not want to agree to a six-month extension, the state has agreed to extend the Remote Work MOU Pilot Program to October 31, 2022—and an MOU to that effect was signed today.
This means that there is no reason for agencies to arbitrarily terminate remote work programs this month. In instances where the union and management have negotiated agency-specific remote work programs, those pilot program should continue to be in operation. And if no such program has yet been negotiated in a particular agency, then the opportunity is still present for the union and management to develop such a program now. Pending grievances over the implementation of the Remote Pilot MOU by individual agencies will continue, and more information will be sent when those grievances are resolved.
Grievance Backlog Reduced
When employee grievances in state government can’t be resolved at the local level, they are often moved to the department-level “third step committee,” where the union meets with department representatives to attempt to come to agreement on an appropriate resolution. Hundreds of grievances are resolved at this level every year.
And when agreement cannot be reached at the third level, AFSCME has the option of moving the grievance to arbitration, where it will be decided by an independent arbitrator. However, over the past few years the arbitration process has slowed down to a crawl—primarily due to understaffing in CMS, which represents management in the proceedings.
The backlog reached a point where grievances could be stuck for months—even years—before ever getting before an arbitrator. Such lengthy delays are fundamentally unfair to grievants—who may have been unfairly been denied promotions, or temporary assignment pay, or unfairly disciplined or even discharged. Grievants should not have to face long delays to get such issues resolved.
Earlier this year, after repeatedly pressing the state to be more responsible in setting arbitration dates, AFSCME Council 31 filed a motion in circuit court asking the court to order that the state move with due dispatch to set hearing dates for all of the outstanding arbitration cases now pending. While no ruling from the court has yet issued, the legal action seems to have spurred greater diligence on CMS’s part—and the grievance backlog has now been significantly reduced. Our union will continue to press for speedy resolution of outstanding grievances.
Staff Shortages Plague State Government
In agency after agency, state employees struggle to carry out the mission they signed up for—often putting their own health at risk and neglecting their families because of the excessive amounts of overtime required to make sure the job gets done.
Such understaffing is producing crisis conditions in several agencies—most recently in IDHS developmental centers where the severe shortage of staff is taking a toll on the quality of care provided to the residents.
In too many instances one staff member is being left alone on a unit with numerous individuals with developmental disabilities who require a high degree of supervision and support. In other instances, staff are being mandated to work exhausting 16- and even 24-hour shifts which make it virtually impossible for them to be able to provide the residents with the kind of assistance they need.
While it’s true that employers all across the country are struggling to hire, several recent reports have pointed to the fact that state governments and other public entities have seen a more drastic decline in staffing levels than private sector employers. Illinois is a prime example of this trend: Governor Pritzker’s budget plan indicates that there are currently 7,000 vacancies in state government!
And not all of the blame can be laid at the doorstep of the pandemic. The fact is that state government hiring and promotion procedures are something of a bureaucratic morass that moves at the speed of molasses. Fully qualified employees applying for another position in state government can wait months to get any kind of response. And, of course, it’s much worse for potential new hires. When folks apply for state jobs and have to wait months to get a reply, they have often long since moved on to some other job by the time the state of Illinois gets back to them.
The current union contract includes an MOU that establishes a joint labor-management committee to review hiring policies. The committee has been meeting for almost two years now and, no surprise, progress has been painfully slow. It's well past time for genuine reform—not just more political posturing—when it comes to fixing the state’s flawed hiring and promotion system. It’s not rocket science that’s needed, just a genuine commitment to change which has been sorely lacking up until now.
Governor Signs Survivors’ Health Coverage Bill
After the murder of DCFS investigator Deidre Silas, her family was shocked to discover that they would no longer be eligible to continue on the state health insurance plan. AFSCME worked with Sen. Doris Turner, as well as the Pritzker Administration, to develop legislation that would provide such insurance coverage for Deidre’s family or the survivors of any other state employee killed in the line of duty.
SB 3197 will provide health insurance benefits to the survivors of any state employee who dies from a work-related injury when the survivor is eligible for the SERS occupational death benefit. Survivors will receive coverage under the state’s group health insurance plan with the state covering 100% of the premium. Children may be covered until the age of 26.
Governor Pritzker has now signed this measure into law and it is effective retroactively to January 1, 2022.
Freedom Foundation Fakery
You may have recently received a glossy mailer from a group called Freedom Foundation urging you to quit AFSCME. Freedom Foundation is the West Coast cousin of the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI)—a union-hating organization funded by the super-wealthy, to try to wipe out public sector unions in our country by getting public employees to drop out of their union.
Both organizations rely on distortions or outright lies to try to turn members against their union. You can be very sure that their “informational” mailings have only one goal: to weaken labor unions in our country.
When the IPI hooked up with Bruce Rauner to try to take down our union, members in our state saw right through their fakery. Now we’ve got to make sure we’re at the ready again. Click here to read a fact sheet—with the real facts on the Freedom Foundation.