Chicago Tribune: How AFSCME's demands invited the Janus case

June 25, 2018 -- Kristen McQueary, Tribune Editorial Board

It’s fitting that Mark Janus, the plaintiff behind a highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week, works for Illinois government. The union he sued is particularly influential in politics and policy here — with perilous outcomes for taxpayers.

The 200-page American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 contract exemplifies how the demands of public employee unions have grown extreme in Illinois government and why Janus got fed up. Overtime costs, seniority rules, a hyperactive grievance process, pay raises and step increases that far outpace the consumer price index, health care plans heavily subsidized by taxpayers, costly pensions and worker protections that keep bad employees on the job have soured the image of public employee unions. They’ve gone too far.

Several years ago, a supervisor at the Illinois Department of Revenue made the mistake of working extra hours to reduce a backlog of tax returns. AFSCME filed a grievance. Why? She had violated a clause in the union’s contract by doing “bargaining unit” work. The union also filed complaints against volunteers at veterans homes who were giving their time, for free, to answer phones and welcome visitors. They were intruding on union workers’ turf.

The grievances were upheld through an arbitration process in Illinois that favors unions, not management. Embedded in public employee union psyche, that process codifies inefficiency in government. It’s coveted.

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