SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers are not backing Gov. Pat Quinn’s bid to cancel pay hikes for 30,000 unionized state employees — at least not yet.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers are not backing Gov. Pat Quinn’s bid to cancel pay hikes for 30,000 unionized state employees — at least not yet.

The legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules postponed a decision until at least August on whether to pay the promised 2-percent raises to thousands of workers, many of whom are members of the state’s largest public employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME.

However, lawmakers, many of whom support Quinn’s efforts, said they want a judge to decide the next move.

State Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Galesburg, said legislative action is not needed at this point.

“The fact that the courts are going to be involved and an arbitrator is involved, those are normal avenues when there is a dispute,” said Moffitt.

On Friday, AFSCME filed a lawsuit in U.S. Central District Court here, to force Quinn to fulfill the 2008 contract the union signed with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. That deal guaranteed a 15-percent pay increase for many AFSCME members over a four-year period. This is the last year of that contract; the pay hikes were supposed to take effect July 1.

State Sen. John Jones, R-Mount Vernon, said: “I’m from the old school. When you shake hands you have a contract, when you sign your name you have a contract. And it’s a binding contract.”

But state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said lawmakers did not sign the deal with AFSCME. He added that lawmakers wrote the budget approved last month and the money for the raises was not included.
“The majority in both the House and the Senate both approved a budget that clearly had personal service lines insufficient to pay these raises,” said Righter.

Even though the governor did not sign the current contract with AFSCME, Quinn did agree to a 2009 deal with the union that guarantees Quinn cannot close state facilities or lay off union workers until next year. Lawmakers, particularly GOP legislators, have said the 2009 deal hamstrings Quinn as much as the raises promised in the 2008 contract.

Today brought hundreds of AFSCME members to the streets in front of state facilities across Illinois. So-called “informational pickets” were held in Chicago, Springfield, Alton, Anna in southern Illinois, Danville, East Moline, and a handful of other cities.

AFSCME member Lydia Williams, who works for the Department of Human Services in Chicago, said she wants to know why Quinn has money to give his staff pay raises, but Illinois cannot afford the pay hikes promised to AFSCME.

“Where’s your integrity?” asked Williams from a picket line in Chicago. “How can you decide to give your people raises? They’re already making far more than we’re making at our agencies.”

Quinn last summer approved raises for more than 200 of his closest advisers and top staff members.

But the governor Monday said if union members in Illinois are unhappy, they should blame the General Assembly and not him.

“If they want a raise, they should contact their local legislator and ask him or her to vote for that,” said Quinn.

Quinn has said Illinois simply does not have enough money to cover the $75 million in raises for 2011, but he blames lawmakers for not “fully funding” the pay hikes in the 2012 state budget.

AFSCME spokesman Andres Lindall on Monday said the union should find out next week which judge will hear their case the week. He did not know when a ruling would be made.

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