By Jamey Dunn
In an unprecedented move, Gov. Pat Quinn has canceled Illinois government's contract with the state’s largest public employee union. But leaders of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 say the governor’s decision will have little effect in the short term.
The state’s contract with AFSCME ran out in June, but both sides agreed to extend it while negotiations continued. The union and the Quinn administration have been working for about a year to try to hammer out a new contract. But the Quinn administration told the union this week that it would no longer extend the expired contract. “Gov. Quinn has cut state spending down to 2008 levels and proposed closing empty or half-empty, very expensive state facilities that are no longer needed. After decades of mismanagement, the state is behind on $8 billion dollars of payments to vendors, including social service agencies. And the state’s pension shortfall has risen to $96 billion – the worst of the 50 states,” Abdon Pallasch, a Quinn budget spokesman, said in a written statement. “During 11 months of bargaining, the state has extended the contract three times and made significant efforts to compromise. But the government employees' union, which has not offered a single proposal to deal with retirement health care, continues to seek millions of dollars in pay hikes the taxpayers can’t afford to give them. It has refused to recognize the extraordinary financial crisis squeezing the state.We are committed to securing a fair contract that is affordable to the taxpayers during these tough economic times.”
Union officials say that the end of the contract does not mean a government shutdown or employees losing pay or benefits because they say all the terms of the contract also exist in state law. They do, however, argue that the move will hurt employee morale and make it more difficult to reach agreement on a new contract. “While AFSCME is committed to reaching a fair agreement, Pat Quinn seems intent on heading in the wrong direction,” Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, said in a written statement. “Our union wants constructive engagement, but the governor is choosing confrontation instead.”