Tuesday, November 27, 2012

House resolution could mean
no pay raises for state workers

By Jamey Dunn

State workers may not get a raise next fiscal year if lawmakers stick to a resolution approved by a House committee today.

House Joint Resolution 45 says that the General Assembly will not approve funding in the fiscal year 2013 budget to pay for any raises that could come out of the collective bargaining talks currently being held between Gov. Pat Quinn and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees, the state’s largest public employee union.

The resolution does not legally bind Quinn from striking a deal to give workers a pay raise, but if passed, it would send a message that lawmakers are unlikely to include the money for a raise in next fiscal year’s budget. “It’s very straightforward. It simply expresses the opinion of the House concerning the amount of money that should be spent pending [a] collective bargaining contract,” said House Speaker Michael Madigan, who sponsors the amendment. The measure also states that it would be “policy of the state of Illinois” that the size of the state’s workforce will not be part of collective bargaining, meaning that promises to skip or lessen layoffs could not be used as bargaining chip in negotiations. Again, this provision would not legally bind Quinn or governors following him.

The legislature effectively blocked pay increases for AFSCME members last year by not including the money for them in the budget. Gov. Quinn canceled the raises, saying that his hands were tied by the budget approved by lawmakers. The issue is still playing out in court. Although resolutions are not legally binding, the House has also stuck to recent budget resolutions that capped general spending.

Lawmakers in favor of the resolution say that because the legislature approves the budget, the General Assembly should have some say in the spending associated with union contracts. “We’ve put our input in, which is we don’t have additional money. So if you make promises regarding additional money, the state does not have the ability to keep those promises,” said Rep. John Bradley, a Marion Democrat.

But union officials say that the legislature is undermining the collective bargaining process. “Our union has negotiated contracts with Democratic governors, with Republican governors, in good fiscal times and in bad fiscal times. And the current collective bargaining process, uninterrupted, has allowed for contracts that are fair both to the workforce and to taxpayers,” said Joanna Webb-Gauvin, legislative director for AFSCME Council 31.

She said that the resolution could “destabilize labor relations” in Illinois. It appears that negotiations over the contract are already on shaky ground. Quinn decided last week not to extend the contract, which expired in June. However, workers are staying on the job without a contract and the terms of the expired contract remain in place under state law.

 “We are very much aware of the state’s fiscal condition. No one is more aware of the state’s fiscal crisis then our members who have been on the front lines suffering under shared sacrifice for the past decade,” said Webb-Gauvin. “Our members and their salaries did not cause the fiscal crisis, and passing this resolution won’t solve it.”

 “This resolution does not attack state workers,” said Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican.  “We understand the job that they do. We understand the hard work that they do. I do not feel that it is an interference into the collective bargaining process.” He said that lawmakers, who are wrestling with difficult budgeting decisions, need to convey the reality of the state’s dire fiscal situation. “We should have a voice.”

The resolution passed out of committee with no opposition. Bradley said it could come up for a floor vote in the House as early as tomorrow.

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