SPRINGFIELD — An arbitrator has blocked Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to deny 30,000 state workers salary increases set to start at the beginning of this month, saying Quinn’s decision violated a 2008 contract between the state and workers’ union.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — An arbitrator has blocked Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to deny 30,000 state workers salary increases set to start at the beginning of this month, saying Quinn’s decision violated a 2008 contract between the state and workers’ union.

Quinn’s office said the state denied the $75 million in higher wages to employees in 14 state agencies, because the Legislature didn’t appropriate enough money.

“Funding these raises would mean that these agencies would not be able to make payroll for the entire year, disrupting core services for the people of Illinois, including children, the elderly and those with special needs,” Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said. “We will be appealing the arbitrator’s decision.”

However, the governor’s office was unable to say which court — the state’s court of appeals or a circuit court — will receive the appeal.

Arbitrator Edwin Benn acknowledged the state’s financial troubles, but said in the ruling that the state’s contract with the workers’ union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Council 31, must be honored.

This “is a very simple case with a very simple bottom line … the state did not keep its promise. The state must now keep its promise,” Benn wrote.

“The words ‘…shall be increased by 2.00% …’ leave nothing to the imagination. ‘[S]hall’ is not discretionary,” Benn wrote.

Henry Bayer, executive director for AFSCME, said Tuesday’s decision has implications beyond honoring the employees’ pay increases.

“This is a question of whether the fundamental right of working people to bargain collectively will be upheld in Illinois,” Bayer said in a written statement. “We welcome this ruling, because it makes clear that the governor cannot simply break a contract at will.”

The original contract, approved by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, had a 4 percent pay bump set to start July 1 of this year. Facing the fiscal reality that fulfilling the agreement could result in layoffs and furloughs, Quinn struck a deal with AFSCME last year to give a 2 percent increase starting July 1, 2011, then an additional 2 percent increase Feb. 1, 2012. That would give the union members their 4 percent pay increase,just seven months later than was originally contracted.

Quinn’s appeal will take a broader view of the situation when he begins the process through the state’s court system. The arbitrator was limited to reviewing the language of the contract, and could not consider Illinois statutes and constitution, both of which Quinn’s office invoked when arguing on its behalf in the case.

If the court upholds Benn’s opinion, the state will have to cover the raises starting retroactively July 1.

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  1. To much power for a labor union arbitrator

    I wonder if Edwin Benn was the arbitrator in the Evanston Fire Union's lawsuit against the City of Evanston last year.

    You might recall that Evanston in budget cuts last year laid off three firefighters – the first firefighter layoff since the Recession began in 2007. The Evanston Fire Union quickly went to an arbitrator and got a favorable ruling – the layoffs were unfair labor practices.

    The Evanston Fire Union then took the city to court. In an out of court settlement, the Evanston Fire Union agreed to drop its suit when the city agreed to rehire the laid-off firefighters and any future layoffs during the contract term would be DECIDED BY AN ARBITRATOR!

    Edwin Benn, who just ruled against the State of Illinois, is a partner in a Chicago law firm whose clients consist mostly of labor unions. Unbelievable as it sounds, it's true. Look it up.

    Imagine if you will when Evanston wants to layoff a firefighter and it has to get permission from an arbitrator and that arbitrator is Edwin Benn.

    The question would then become: Who's running the city, our elected leaders, Edwin Benn or the unions? The correct answer would be the latter two.

    A little footnote – Benn quoted Bruce Springsteen lyrics in his ruling in the union wage dispute against Illinois.

    Consider that our elected officials in this economic crisis just negotiated a 4 percent pay raise for the Evanston Police Sergeant's union. That raise could increase if the city negotiates a better pay raise for two other government unions this year. How much ya wanna bet these unions get their raises.

    Consider also that most aldermen received union campaign donations, including my aldermen, Mark Tendam.

    Consider that our fire and police chiefs retired in their mid-50s with six figure pensions, and they are now employed as chiefs in neighboring towns, due another pension in about a decade. We all pay for that.

    And you wonder why the city  – faced with insurmountable pension debt –  is closing down our branch libraries and recreation centers? 

  2. Check your facts

    Al, check your facts. The city and fire union never went to arbitration last year.  The contract was settled before it went to arbitration, which would have cost the city more money. They also never went to court over the unfair labor practices alleged by either side. Those were dropped as part of contract negotiations. 

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