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Union membership surges among state workers

Thousands people including state unimembers state workers teachers social service organizations rally protest budget cuts scores state programs Illinois State

Thousands of people, including state union members, state workers, teachers and social service organizations rally to protest budget cuts to scores of state programs at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield last April. | AP file photo

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SPRINGFIELD — 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 employees.

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 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 2,300 who joined from 1995 to 2003.

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 are unionized.

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