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SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Pat Quinn violated a union contract with nearly 30,000 state workers by refusing to give them a pay raise July 1, an arbitrator ruled Tuesday.
Edwin Benn ordered Quinn to start paying the 2 percent increase and provide back pay within 30 days.
“As a matter of contract, the state cannot simply refuse to pay the increase,” Benn wrote in his opinion.
Quinn’s administration said the matter envelops broader issues than the arbitrator could consider and that the Democratic governor will appeal in state court.
The raises are promised in a contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. But Quinn has argued he doesn’t have to pay them because lawmakers, electing to spend $2 billion less this fiscal year in a budget crisis, didn’t include enough money for them.
The administration said the increases would cost about $75 million for the fiscal year that ends in June.
“Funding these raises would mean that these agencies would not be able to make payroll for the entire year, disrupting core services for the people of Illinois,” spokesman Grant Klinzman said, referring to the agencies where the state employees work.
Quinn officials estimate if the state is forced to pay the increases, 14 agencies would face a $200 million deficit by year’s end, including $90 million in the Department of Human Services and $57 million in Corrections.
AFSCME applauded the decision.
“It makes clear that the governor cannot simply break a contract at will,” Henry Bayer, the union’s executive
director, said in a statement. “We call on the governor to keep his word and accept the arbitrator’s clear ruling to avoid further costly litigation.”
Benn also noted in his order that the union had agreed to concessions to help the state during the fiscal crisis. Those included delaying half of the 4 percent raise union workers were supposed to get July 1.
The arbitrator acknowledged he could decide only contractual issues and not technical legal or constitutional matters. They include Quinn’s argument that the state constitution doesn’t allow the state to spend money that hasn’t been appropriated.
But Benn said if the state prevails on that argument, the idea that unions would agree to money-saving multiyear contracts is “probably dead” because unions won’t trust government bodies to live up to agreements down the road if budgets tighten.