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Union pay dispute heats up ahead of election

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Friday, October 12, 2018  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Governor (44) , Unions, labor (55)
The largest state employee’s union is demanding state employees get paid raises from the past three years despite questions about the union's contract.

American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch stood with various union members and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza on Thursday at a news conference. Mendoza criticized Gov. Bruce Rauner for not immediately paying raises from a contract that expired in 2015.

Six months after Rauner took office in 2015, the unions’ contract with former Gov. Pat Quinn expired. While Rauner was able to secure new contracts with more than a dozen other bargaining units of state employees, AFSCME and the administration couldn’t come to terms.

In January 2016, Rauner asked for an impasse declaration. AFSMCE said there wasn’t impasse. The Illinois Labor Relations Board found there was impasse on some issues, but not on others. The union appealed.

Separately, the union went after step increases from the expired contract, using labor law to say an expired contract’s terms remain valid while a new one is worked on. Despite attempts by Rauner to block the scheduled pay raises, the Illinois Labor Relations Board said the raises should be paid.

The union told its members they were supposed to get the extra pay Oct. 1, a deadline from the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The Rauner administration said that was a deadline for information, not for pay to go out. The administration also said there’s still the unanswered legal question about the impasse. The administration said it "will continue working with the ILRB to get employees paid."

"It takes actual work, not press conferences, to calculate these increases and actual money, not rhetoric, to pay them," a statement from Rauner's office said. "The court has allowed this time and state workers are diligent in their efforts to complete the complicated calculations to make good on step increases for everyone who was promised them."

“The compliance officer recognized that legal disputes remain regarding the amount of step increases that are owed, and that those issues must be resolved by the Labor Relations Board or a court,” Rauner’s office said.

Lynch said the step increase matter is separate from the impasse question.

“The question of impasse is still before the 4th District appellate court and the governor is barred from imposing any of his terms and that would, in our view, include imposing a step freeze,” Lynch said.

Wirepoints President Ted Dabrowski if there’s impasse, there’s no contact.

“If there is no contract, why would [the state] pay it?” Dabrowski said. “Or if they haven’t settled on if there’s an impasse or not, why would these amounts get paid?”

Mendoza said Rauner’s administration failure to pay raises from a contract that expired more than three years ago is costing taxpayers 7-percent interest every day.

“These employees deserve to be paid,” Mendoza said. “A contract should be a contract, should be a contract, and it should be honored no matter who it’s with and who’s it is from.”

Dabrowski said that misses the point.

“What she’s trying to do is just get the public sector workers paid and they can benefit even though they’ve refused to sign a contract,” Dabrowski said. “I think she’s just flat out wrong in trying to lean on ‘a contract, is a contract, is a contract,’ when there isn’t a contract.”

If the courts find there’s no impasse, taxpayers could be on the hook for an estimated $400 million for the raises from the 2015 step schedule through today. If the courts find there’s impasse, Rauner’s administration told the labor board that it is calculating how much would be owed in raises from from July 1, 2016, through sometime in early 2017, the time the two sides were in negotiations.