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Negotiator: Ill. union deal means back pay, raises

Published: Friday, March 1, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP file photo)
Union members, supporters and labor leaders protest against Gov. Pat Quinn on Aug. 15 at the state fair in Springfield. On Thursday, Quinn's office confirmed that the largest state employee union in Illinois and his administration have reached a tentative contract agreement.

CHICAGO – Illinois’ largest union and Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration reached a tentative contract agreement Thursday, averting the threat of the first strike by state workers in decades of collective bargaining.

The deal means that members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 will get promised 2011 pay increases on which the Democratic governor reneged last year, according to a member of AFSCME’s bargaining committee. The member spoke on the condition of anonymity because of not being authorized to speak publicly about the deal.

Neither the governor’s office nor union officials would publicly disclose details of the three-year agreement. But the bargaining committee member said more than 35,000 union members would get 2 percent salary increases in each of the past two years of the three-year pact after taking a wage freeze in the first year.

In return, workers will pay more of their health insurance costs, said the committee member.

“AFSCME is very pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that protects our members’ standard of living, and is fair to them and all Illinois citizens, even in these very challenging economic times,” Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer said in a statement.

Spokesman Anders Lindall said AFSCME members, who have been at the table for 15 months, will begin reviewing and discussing the tentative agreement next week.

The union has been working without a contract since November, when Quinn took the symbolic but demoralizing step of canceling the pact instead of continuing to extend the deal that expired last June 30.

Lindall said an agreement was reached after midnight Thursday.

“At a time when the state is facing unprecedented financial challenges, this agreement is fair to both hard-working state employees and all taxpayers of Illinois,” Quinn said in a statement. His office also would not discuss details.

But the AFSCME member said that in the provisional contract, Quinn agrees to pay a 5.25 percent raise due workers in early 2012. The union agreed to forgo the raises to help the state in a budget crisis, but when they came due last summer, Quinn argued the Legislature had not appropriated the $75 million necessary to pay them.

A judge ruled in the union’s favor in December and Quinn appealed. According to the AFSCME member, Quinn has agreed to drop his appeal and approach lawmakers with AFSCME support in seeking authority to spend money the Cook County judge ordered Quinn to put aside last summer.

There hasn’t been a state worker strike since unionization began in 1973. State law prohibits security workers — in AFSCME’s case, prison guards — from walking out, but a strike could have hobbled critical functions such as child-abuse investigations and caring for elderly residents of military veterans’ homes.

AFSCME issued a memo in February to members telling them how to prepare in case of a possible strike, and worker protests in recent months had called on Quinn for fair employment and collective bargaining practices.

Quinn had wanted workers to accept a multiyear wage freeze along with changes in health care coverage. Bayer said those changes would cost each employee an additional $10,000 over the length of the contract.

The union and Quinn’s office had been negotiating for more than a year at a time when the relationship was already strained over issues such as money-saving facility closures.

Illinois has the worst-in-the-nation pension problem with $96 billion in unfunded liability. The union opposes reductions to their retirement benefits, which have been central themes on pension overhaul talks. The state can’t keep up with bills, either, carrying a backlog of roughly $9 billion.

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