9-4-12; Illinois WC Arbitrators Shouldn’t Buy Green Bananas!!—IL WC System spits out two more long-time Arbitrators without any reason other than Politics, Politics and More Politics

As things at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission remain unpredictable and quirky, Commission-Watchers were mildly stunned to see Governor Quinn failed to re-appoint Arbitrators Jacqueline Kinnaman and Peter Akemann. Both of these former Arbitrators were honest, decent, professional-to-the-max and have encyclopedic knowledge of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and Rules. It is hard to imagine two better hearing officers/administrators in our state but they are now both gone but not forgotten. We have now fired 11 Arbitrators in the last year or so for a variety of imagined sins.

The problem with the “new” WC Commission under this Governor was his determination to strip out civil service protection of the Arbitrators who are the initial hearing officers in our state. For about three decades, we complained Arbitrators were selected in a mildly faked civil service process—they were “tested” but it seemed if you were supposed to be selected because of your political pull, you got the scores you needed. We took the Illinois civil service test for WC Arbitrator and considered it puerile; anyone with a tiny bit of WC knowledge could readily pass it. We also asked for test score results to be posted and the state administrators always came up with some smoke-and-mirrors response why Arbitrator test results couldn’t be posted. However, once an Arbitrator got a job, it was generally difficult to fire them for purely political reasons, as they were protected to some extent by the civil service process.

When things got hot and politically embarrassing at the IWCC in 2010 and last year, the Illinois State Legislature joined with the Governor in stripping out the civil service protection of Arbitrators. What many of our sources in the Arbitration ranks pointed out was this made the jobs giant political plums that could be wielded at the discretion of the “Big Three”—Governor Quinn, Senate President Cullerton and House Speaker Mike Madigan. At present, that appears to be precisely what may be happening.

AFSCME Ties Probably Got Her the Job and Probably Got Her Fired from the Job

Former Arbitrator Jacqueline Kinnaman has been with the IL WC Commission for several decades. She is married to the executive director of one of Illinois’ largest government employee unions, AFSCME. We assume that is the source of the political clout that got her the two different Commission positions she held until last week. She initially was appointed as a Commissioner in one of those “who is this” sort of appointments, as she wasn’t a WC attorney or system participant before starting work in the higher level position. As soon as she developed a track record as a Commissioner, most observers felt she was very, very liberal and pro-labor in her view of the facts of any claim. There is also no question she rapidly learned and adhered closely to the law and rules.

From what we can tell, the political ties that got her the position—her husband’s high-level union position may have caused her to be fired. At present, Governor Quinn and AFSCME are at odds and in litigation over the union’s claim to a $60M raise. AFSCME’s website trumpets their battle with the Governor right now:

Pat Quinn had a tough Governor's Day at the Illinois State Fair [in mid-August]. More than 3,000 union members – the majority of whom were from AFSCME – showed up to speak out against his cuts to public services and his treatment of public service workers. They birddogged the governor at a pre-fair event, handed out flyers at all of the fair's entrances and nearly drowned out Quinn's speech at a Democratic party rally…Quinn has opposed working families since his 2010 election to the Prairie State's top office. Quinn unilaterally refused to pay negotiated wage increases to state workers since July 2011. AFSCME has fought with Quinn in court for more than a year to get the governor to honor the state's contract with its workers. The governor leads the charge to slash pensions for state workers and current retirees who did not expect their retirement security to be at the whim of state politicians. Quinn is also pushing to lay off 4,000 state employees who work in human services, corrections and child protection –vital public services performed by AFSCME members across the state.

You have to love union rhetoric and understand this sort of colloquy epitomizes many things wrong with government labor unions in Illinois. In light of the giant budget deficit in this state, we consider such sentiments to be farcical and misguided. We find the claim our Governor “opposed working families” to be particularly kooky—any effort by our Governor to hold the line on spending money government doesn’t have isn’t a shot at “working families.”

Please note Illinois state government is awash in red ink to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. We applaud the Governor’s stance against having to borrow even more money to fund pay raises and government jobs we can’t afford. We are very confident no one wants to raise record-high state taxes, tolls and fees even more than they have already been raised. While we are chagrined to see former Arbitrator Kinnaman “un-reappointed” in this ongoing management-labor battle, it is hard to take the “politics out of politics.”

Former Arbitrator Akemann Fired for Not Having a Defined Protector/Political Patron?

What is more disconcerting is the situation with former Arbitrator Peter Akemann. Like former Arbitrator Kinnaman, Peter Akemann was an Illinois Arbitrator for several decades. He is professional, fair and also has an comprehensive knowledge of our IL WC Act and Rules. He worked hard to get claims settled and, failing settlement, he would provide a fair and impartial hearing and assessment of every claim. To our understanding, he always got solid marks in his annual reviews from the Chairman and other Commission members. We don’t know who his political clout might have been to get the position but once in the position, he was about as “non-political” as anyone could be. And now, without any defined reason, he is out the door. His situation has probably caused all the rest of the sitting Arbitrators to put in calls, emails and “tweets” to their political patrons to be sure they are avoiding cigarettes and bacon.

Don’t Cry for Me Illinois-A!! They Will Both Receive “Pensions” or Eventually Go Back on Our Payroll Without Having to Listen to Petitioners Whine

As a consolation for both of them, we are fairly confident they should be vested and therefore entitled to the so-called “pension” program that thousands of former state government employees get for the rest of their lives. The reason we put the term “pension” in quotes is because Illinois state employees don’t actually contribute anything near the amount of money needed to actually fund their “pensions.” And sometimes, even when they contribute money to their so-called “pensions” state administrators, on both sides of the political matrix, spend the contributions on other things. You can’t blame that failure on rank and file workers but from the perspective of the taxpayers, the whole “pension” system for state workers has to be dramatically reformed or completely discarded in favor of a 401K program.

When you read or hear the words “unfunded state pension liability” in the media, please don’t be confused by that nebulous accounting term; what those words mean is Illinois state employees go through/spend their career-long “pension” contributions in a year or so after entering the “pension” system and then effectively go back on our payroll and are again living off the taxpayers without having to work at all. There are tens of thousands of such former state workers getting paid by all of us in this fashion. As we are sure both former Arbitrators are healthy and happy folks, if they live long enough, like most workers in the state “pension” program, they may actually receive more money in retirement than they made on the real payroll.

This link outlines the Arbitrators who will remain in your WC workforce along with their terms: http://appointments.illinois.gov/appointmentsDetail.cfm?id=412&s=0&o=1#memberNames

KCB&A joins with the larger IL workers’ compensation community in thanking former Arbitrators Kinnaman and Akemann for their years of work in this system. We appreciate your thoughts and comments.