In a move that has ignited the ire of labor groups statewide, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced on Friday the cancellation of pay raises for thousands of state employees that were due within the next year.
The cancellations specifically affect 14 state agencies, boards and commissions outlined in a memo sent by the state's Department of Central Management Services Friday. The document reads that though Quinn's "proposed budget to the General Assembly sought to fully fund all collective bargaining contracts," the budget ultimately approved by the state legislature does not leave room for cost of living adjustments, longevity enhancements or step increases. The canceled raises, reportedly, total some $77 million in savings for the state and impact approximately 30,000 employees.
"The fiscal year 2012 budget does not provide the money for these pay raises," Quinn's office explained in a statement reported by Capitol Fax. "If the state paid these increases, the impacted agencies would not be able to make payroll for the entire fiscal year, preventing them from continuing operations and providing core services to the people of Illinois."
In response, AFSCME Council 31 has vowed to take legal action against the governor. Henry Bayer, the union's executive director, called the governor's actions "illegal and irresponsible." AFSCME members were due a 2 percent raise July 1, an additional 1.25 percent January 1 and another 2 percent in February, AP reported.
"Governor Pat Quinn has trampled on the collective bargaining process and broken his contract with the men and women who do the real work of state government," Bayer wrote.
Further, Bayer compared the Democratic Illinois governor to Republican governors including Scott Walker (Wis.), John Kasich (Ohio) and Chris Christie (N.J.) who have taken controversial stances on collective bargaining rights for public employees in recent months.
"By choosing to simply ignore a legally binding agreement, Pat Quinn has sunk even lower [than them]," Bayer wrote. "Not only is Quinn's assault on public employee collective bargaining unprecedented in the four decades of state employee bargaining in Illinois, given his repeated criticism of Walker and others, it is utterly hypocritical … AFSCME will aggressively pursue every available legal recourse to ensure that the collective bargaining agreement is honored and employees are paid according to their contract."
Quinn's latest action is not the first to be criticized recently by labor groups. The governor also recently came under fire by some labor groups for pushing for the passage of Senate Bill 1556, a piece of legislation that would have reduced the number of unionized public employees in Illinois by over 3,000 in eliminating what the governor described as a "management vacuum" in cases where managers and those employees they oversee are unionized.
Of that bill, the Illinois Federation of Public Employees said it would "strip collective bargaining rights from thousands of public employees in Illinois."
While it was approved in the state House, it failed to garner enough support for success in the Senate but Quinn press secretary Annie Thompson indicated they would press on by "ask[ing] all of the legislative caucuses to discuss this issue and consider the consequences of inaction."
Thompson balked at any comparisons drawn between SB 1556 and the "budget repair bill" Wisconsin Governor Walker and Republican legislators of that state pushed through toward ultimately going into effect last week.
"The Governor is committed to operating the state of Illinois efficiently and effectively, and that is impossible to do without a management presence throughout state government," Thompson told Huffington Post Chicago of the bill. "This problem has developed over many years and takes time to address."
In a March interview, Quinn said his gubernatorial neighbor to the north "should be ashamed of himself" for pushing the bill which thousands of Wisconsin residents criticized as an attack on worker's rights.
"I believe in the right of everyday people to band together if they want to have a union to organize and represent their interests...wages, working conditions, health benefits. That's America," Quinn told Fox Chicago. "I have lots of disagreements with unions that represent state workers, but we sit around the table and we negotiate, work out the details. In Wisconsin, the governor wants to extinguish the right of everyday people to have a union and to have collective bargaining. I don't think that's good."
At that time, Quinn appeared to have the confidence of public employee unions throughout the state, but particularly after Friday's memo, it would be safe to describe the governor's relationship with the state's labor groups as perhaps rockier than ever.
Not long before Friday's memo was sent, Quinn signed the state's budget, cutting some $376 million more from it than expected. Many of those cuts were made to Medicaid as well as to public school transportation and regional school administration.