Illinois’ Gov. Quinn Stands Up To AFSCME

In an extraordinary step, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s (D) administration terminated state government’s contract with its largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 on December 1. Illinois has been in negotiations for over 10 months with AFSCME and the union contends that Quinn wanted concessions so deep that they are “an insult to every state employee.” The resulting salary cuts and increased insurance costs could mean some workers would take a $10,000 hit.

Rebecca Smith is a contributor to The Brenner Brief. Her columns appear weekly on Tuesdays.

Rebecca Smith is a contributor to The Brenner Brief. Her columns appear weekly on Tuesdays.

“In 40 years of collective bargaining, Pat Quinn is the first and only Illinois governor to terminate a union contract,” AFSCME executive director Henry Bayer said. “His action will heighten employee frustration, provoke instability in the workplace and make settling a contract more difficult.”

Michael Carrigan, President of the Illinois, AFL-CIO said, “Gov. Quinn’s effort to undermine their collective bargaining rights is unwarranted and virtually unprecedented in Illinois government.”

AFSCME represents 35,000 state workers. Both Michael Carrigan and AFSCME Council 31 President, Jorge Ramirez, are demanding that Governor Quinn rescind his decision.

Scheduled to expire last June 30, the previous contract’s terms had been extended by mutual agreement of the parties. However, following a bargaining session with a federal mediator in Springfield, the Quinn administration rejected a further extension offered by the union.

“Gov. Quinn’s action in terminating the AFSCME contract is inconsistent with the principles of collective bargaining,” Ramirez said. “We cannot understand why our governor, who has stood with organized labor in the past, would be so eager to undermine our brothers and sisters.”

Illinois Assistant Budget Director Abdon Pallasch said AFSCME leadership hasn’t offered meaningful concessions even though the state agreed to withdraw a proposed pay cut for current employees and replace it with a proposed pay freeze. State officials informed union leaders of the AFSCME there will be no additional extensions of a contract covering 35,000 workers that expired in June.

Carrigan stated that the Illinois Governor is portraying state employees as overpaid, which is an insult to Illinois workers who have sacrificed and strived to enter into the middle class. “The governor’s effort to drive down the wage levels of Illinois workers will hurt the economy of our state in the long run,” he added. “I know that AFSCME members are keenly aware of the state’s fiscal woes. They have already taken unpaid furlough days, deferred wage increases and more to save the state over $400 million.”

Illinois’ public pension system is underfunded by at least $85 billion, and their state has a more than $8 billion backlog in overdue bills.

“During 11 months of bargaining, the state has extended the contract three times and made significant efforts to compromise. But the government employees union, which has not offered a single proposal to deal with retirement health care, continues to seek millions of dollars in pay hikes the taxpayers can’t afford to give them,” Pallasch said in a statement. “It has refused to recognize the extraordinary financial crisis squeezing the state.”

AFSCME executive director Henry Bayer called the Quinn administration’s action unprecedented, adding that it will make reaching a contract more difficult.

However, the Quinn administration contends the state can’t afford to keep providing salaries and benefits at levels it says exceeds the salaries and benefits of other unionized state workers across the country.

Hats off to Gov Quinn for putting his state’s financial welfare above political convenience. Both parties could use more people of his caliber.

 

 

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