Madison - St. Clair Record

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Pritzker contract gives AFSCME unfettered access to workers' private information

Their View

By Mailee Smith, Illinois Policy Institute | Sep 2, 2019

Pritzkerafscme

State workers in Illinois will see their rights violated under a new contract deal between AFSCME Council 31 – the state’s largest government worker union – and Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

In a stunning blow to worker privacy, the state agreed to hand over workers’ personal information to AFSCME, including their sex, personal cellphone numbers and personal email addresses, with no limit on how the union uses employee information and with no regard to whether the employee is even an AFSCME member.

The new contract also requires all employees to attend union “orientation” meetings regardless of their preference or union status. What’s more, the state handed over all authority for determining which workers must pay union dues to the union’s leadership.

None of these new provisions were in the previous contract. And they are problematic not only because they impinge on workers’ rights, but also because the state has ceded ground to the union in a way that places union leadership above protection of workers themselves.

The state agreed to hand over personal information to AFSCME on all represented employees

Union leadership will gain access to a wealth of personal worker information under the new contract.

In addition to typical work-related information, such as position number and work telephone number, the state agreed to hand over the following information about each and every employee:

  • Birth date
  • Sex
  • Home address
  • Home and mobile telephone numbers
  • Personal email address
The state also agreed to keep a provision in the contract that requires it to hand over the Social Security numbers of all workers AFSCME represents.

Notably, there is no limitation on how the union can use employees’ personal information. And the state will supply this information regardless of whether an employee is a union member. That means the union is entitled to the personal information – including Social Security numbers and cellphone numbers – of workers who have chosen not to be members. This infringes on workers’ right not to associate with the union.

The state agreed to force all employees to attend union orientation meetings

Union orientation isn’t a new practice. In the past, the state has agreed to allow new hires and other workers to attend union orientation meetings hosted by the union, on government premises, and without loss of pay for the employees.

Past iterations of the AFSCME contract made attendance voluntary. Employees could choose whether they wanted to attend.

But the state agreed in the new contract to remove language making attendance voluntary, implying that all workers will be forced to attend the union meetings even if they don’t want to.

Specifically, the contract allows the union to “orient, educate and update each employee” at least once during the term of the contract. That same section previously stated, “Such attendance by employees shall be on a voluntary basis.” But that language was stricken from the new contract. Another previous provision indicating that attendance of union orientation by employees “shall be on a voluntary basis” was also deleted.

And once again, the state ignored the rights of workers who are not union members. Despite their clear desire not to associate with the union, the state will require these workers to take part in union orientation.

The state agreed to make AFSCME the sole gatekeeper in determining who must pay union dues

The new contract explains that state employees can stop being union members at any time. But the state agreed to make the union the sole gatekeeper in determining when those workers can stop paying dues, a clear conflict of interest.

In other words, a state employee could stop her AFSCME membership, but still be required to pay the union according to the terms in the union’s membership agreement.

The state agreed to not deduct dues from workers’ paychecks “unless directed to do so by the Union.” And the union won’t do so unless it determines that the employee has complied with terms in the membership form the union itself created.

Therefore, if a state employee asks the state to stop taking dues out of her paycheck, the state cannot comply with her request. Instead, the state agreed to refer all employees who request a change in “dues status” to the union.

This will hijack the free choice of workers, placing them in a position in which they will have to approach the union – the very organization they wish to leave – in order to stop paying dues. It also places a barrier between the employer and the employees, preventing employees from getting neutral information from the employer.

The new provisions also run contrary to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which holds that a government cannot withhold union dues from an employee’s paycheck unless there is clear and affirmative consent for the dues deduction.

While the union is required to provide the state with copies of members’ authorization cards, there is no guarantee that the employees will be told they are waiving their constitutional rights by allowing the dues to be deducted. Typically, union membership cards include very little information about employees’ rights.

In effect, the state of Illinois has agreed to simply take the union’s word for it that employees have been properly informed. This does not clear the hurdle of demonstrating clear and affirmative consent before deducting money from an employee’s paycheck.

Between the infringement of privacy and the negotiating away of workers’ rights, the state’s willingness to cede such ground to AFSCME is questionable at best – and bordering on collusion with the union at worst.

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