Illinois Gov. stops extending AFSCME pact as bargaining continues

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly are proving that sometimes, unionized workers for state and local governments can’t trust the Democrats, either.

Just two years after strong and outspoken labor support propelled Quinn to a narrow win and kept the legislature in Democratic control, the governor has said he will not again extend the expired contract with AFSCME, which represents 40,000 state workers – even as talks on a new pact continue. The old pact ended June 30, but was extended three times as talks continued. Another session is scheduled for Dec. 11.

Meanwhile, the Democratic-run state House, which unexpectedly voted 62-52 last year to yank collective bargaining rights from thousands of state workers, passed a nonbinding resolution on Nov. 28 saying the state has no money for raises for workers for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Quinn backed the resolution.

“The piggy bank is not there to be giving out raises,” Quinn told lawmakers before they approved the we-have-no-cash resolution. “We have many bills to pay, and we have this pension challenge. And so the notion that we would be giving out raises is not in the cards. So it’s better for everybody – the executive branch and the legislative branch – to let the government employees’ union know what the facts are.”

And the anti-bargaining bill, left for dead in the state Senate in June 2011, may be revived by Majority Leader John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, in this month’s so-called “veto session” of the legislature, one news report said..

All this leaves Illinois state workers-who haven’t had raises in several years – and their union leaders steamed.

“In 40 years of collective bargaining, Pat Quinn is the first and only Illinois governor to terminate a union contract,” AFSCME District Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer said. “His action will heighten employee frustration, provoke instability in the workplace and make settling a contract more difficult.”

Joanna Webb-Gauvin, AFSCME’s Illinois legislative director said “collective bargaining is based on give and take. This is an intrusion on that process.” She noted AFSCME members know of the state’s fiscal woes and have sacrificed to help solve them, even as Illinois cut 25% of its workforce since 2002. “Our members and their salaries did not cause this fiscal crisis, and this resolution won’t solve them,” she said.

Photo: AFSCME Local 31 Facebook page


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.