The Fifth District Appellate Court dealt Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner a setback Nov. 6 by ruling in favor of union employees on the question of stepped salary increases, saying whether or not there is a collective bargaining agreement in place, the union workers are owed the regular pay raises, which the state hasn't paid since a contract expired in 2015.
Justices weighed in on a dispute between the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and the Illinois Labor Relations Board and the state Department of Central Management Services. Justice Melissa A. Chapman wrote the opinion; Justices Richard P. Goldenhersh and Judy Cates concurred.
This particular conflict arose when the CMS, before the union’s agreement expired, announced it would stop paying step increases after the deal ran out. After that came to pass on July 1, 2015, AFSCME filed an unfair labor charge, saying CMS failed to preserve the status quo during negotiations. The labor board dismissed that complaint, saying step agreements were only part of the status quo to the extent they were mutually agreed upon.
AFSCME appealed, saying the finding was “clearly erroneous.” In disagreeing, CMS also argued the appellate panel should uphold the board’s ruling because the union contract was void under the Public Labor Relations Act and any obligation to pay salary hikes without legislative appropriation is void under the Illinois Supreme Court’s 2016 opinion in State v. AFSCME.
While the appeal was pending, CMS asked the court to remand the issue to the ILRB for additional proceedings that would eliminate Open Meetings Act compliance concerns. The appellate panel, however, affirmed its jurisdiction over the matter, denied the motion to remand and reversed the ILRB’s decision, effectively forcing the state to make good on the pay increase until such time as a new contract is reached.
Early in the process, administrative law judge Sara R. Kerley said CMS agreed to step increases with AFSCME units in every contract going back to 1974, and the two sides were almost always able to complete a new deal before an existing agreement expired. When that didn’t happen, in 1983 and 2008, they executed tolling agreements — the former including a freeze on step increases, the latter confirming they would continue. There was no such agreement during 2012 negotiations, leading to a similar grievance process, though AFSCME ultimately withdrew its charge.
The Fifth District panel heard arguments in April. Chapman said CMS’ history of regularly paying step increases over many years sufficiently established a status quo and said union workers should reasonably expect to continue getting the pay hikes timed to work anniversaries. Further, the distinctions between the 1983, 2008 and 2012 contract disputes demonstrate “there is no consistent practice sufficiently established to create a status quo specific to periods when the parties are between agreements,” adding: “… Accepting the ILRB’s reasoning would eviscerate the requirement that an employer maintain the status quo during collective bargaining.”
In reviewing the state law, the panel said the duty to preserve status quo during negotiations does not depend on the existence of a collective bargaining agreement, so even if the 2012-2015 CBA were deemed to be void, it would not remove CMS’ obligation to preserve a longer standing tradition of step increases.
The Supreme Court ruling in question, Chapman explained, is one of several AFSCME-CMS disputes tied to the Legislature’s lengthy inability to pass an operating budget. However, that matter specifically addresses a multiyear CBA, to which the statutory appropriations clause applies, and not a status quo obligation, which is a contractual matter.
The case was remanded for further proceedings, and the state and AFSCME have not reached a contract agreement.
AFSCME is represented in the matter by the firm of Dowd, Bloch, Bennett, Cervone, Auerbach & Yokich, of Chicago.
CMS is represented by attorneys serving as special assistant attorneys general from the firm of Laner Muchin Ltd., of Chicago; the ILRB is represented by the Illinois Attorney General’s office, as well as Solicitor General David L. Franklin.