Monday, September 28, 2009

AFSCME layoffs stopped for now

By Bethany Jaeger
About 500 state employees who anticipated losing their jobs Wednesday are on hold. A southern Illinois judge this morning ordered the administration to refrain from laying off employees pending more negotiations with the state’s largest public employee union.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said it plans to appeal the ruling, leaving one segment of his deficit-reducing plan — and the 2,600 employees who would be laid off — in limbo.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 filed suit in Johnson County, where Vienna Correctional Center would lose positions. It argued that the job cuts would jeopardize public safety and cause harm to its workers if layoffs took place before the administration settled a dispute over the union’s concerns.

Judge Todd Lambert of the First Judicial Circuit Court in Johnson County ruled that AFSCME met its burden of proof. He wrote in his order, “The risk of employees targeted for layoff or laid off far outweighs any damages or other harm the state may suffer by having to delay the layoffs pending arbitration of the pending grievances.”

Lambert also wrote that the union’s grievances “are not frivolous and reflect a genuine dispute between the parties.”

AFSCME argues layoffs would cause irreparable harm if they took effect without completing negotiations about how the process of layoffs would trickle down. The complex process allows senior workers to bump less-experienced workers out of their jobs, starting a domino effect of workers who have options to take other positions or accept reduced pay, for instance. Anders Lindall, AFSCME Council 31 spokesman, said union members would be forced to make life-altering decisions without knowing all of their options.

“You can’t unscramble the eggs,” Lindall said. “Once employees make these choices, if we subsequently prevailed on our grievance, the state could not easily or at all just go back and restore the status quo.”

AFSCME’s grievances also protest the state’s contracts with private firms that do work that the union says state employees could perform. Lindall cited a $14.5 million contract with a private company that provides temporary clerical workers. Meanwhile, the state plans to lay off state-employed clerical workers in six agencies. “That $14 million contract should be reduced or eliminated and state employees kept on the job," Lindall said.

Quinn’s administration originally proposed that AFSCME members take unpaid days off or forego annual raises to help prevent the need for more layoffs. The union would not agree to concessions, leading Quinn to say he had no choice but to lay off 2,600 employees.

The court order specifically applies to AFSCME members, many of whom work in the Department of Corrections, as well as in the departments of Revenue, Human Services, Healthcare and Family Services and Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

More layoffs were scheduled to take effect October 31 from the Illinois Arts Council and the departments of Natural Resources and Aging, according to Central Management Services, the personnel and procurement agency.

The governor’s office said in a statement that it “carefully followed every step required in the AFSCME contract” and had no choice. “Illinois is experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis, and budget reductions must be made, including cuts to the state’s administrative and personnel costs. Our plan includes responsible layoffs that do not jeopardize public safety.”

The administration still is in negotiations with other public employee unions, including the Service Employees International Union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Teamsters and the Laborers.

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