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Arbitrator rejects Quinn's layoff, closure plan

Published: Monday, Oct. 3, 2011 10:01 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Oct. 3, 2011 1:22 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – An arbitrator ordered Gov. Pat Quinn to halt his plan to lay off state employees and close several prisons and mental facilities, ruling Monday that the governor cannot violate a no-layoff agreement he signed last year with a major union.

Quinn's office quickly said it would fight the ruling in court. The Democratic governor says lawmakers haven't given him enough money to operate state government without making major cuts.

"You can't spend money you don't have," spokeswoman Brie Callahan said in a statement.

Henry Bayer, executive director of the Illinois division of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, urged Quinn to rescind the threatened layoffs and closures.

"Failure to do so will not only harm the vital public services state employees provide, it will expose the state to significant damages for lost wages, benefits and other costs incurred as a result of the governor's irresponsible actions," Bayer said.

Quinn and AFSCME agreed last year that the governor would not cut any union jobs or close state facilities until July 2012 and, in return, the union would come up with $400 million in cost-cutting measures.

But Quinn announced last month that he'll cut 1,680 jobs on Nov. 1 and close a prison, a youth prison and five centers for people with mental disabilities or illness unless the General Assembly provides more money.

Quinn argues he isn't bound by his agreement with AFSCME because it was "subject to appropriations" and lawmakers have not appropriated enough money to live up to the deal.

Arbitrator Edwin Benn rejected Quinn's position.

"The state simply must keep those contractual promises. A party is not excused from previous contractual obligations by claiming that it presently can no longer afford to meet its obligations," Benn wrote.

Benn also emphasized that layoffs when unemployment is so high would be especially harmful.

"Employees who gave concessions to ease the State's financial difficulties and in return were promised by the State that they had job security ... will, because of the State's violation of its promises, be thrown into an economy with little chance of finding comparable employment," he wrote.

The arbitrator acknowledged, however, that his ruling is based solely on the agreement between Quinn and the union. The legal and constitutional issues raised by the governor are best settled by the courts, he said.

Quinn and AFSCME are already battling in court over the same arbitrator's ruling that Quinn was not allowed to cancel raises that are promised in the union's state contract.

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