AFSCME Sues Its Former Ally: Illinois Governor Pat Quinn

Kari Lydersen

Pat Quinn speaks during a news conference to proclaim victory in the Illinois gubernatorial race on November 5, 2010, in Chicago.

On July 8, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) state council 31 sued Illinois governor Patrick Quinn – generally seen as a pro-labor governor – over pay raises worth $75 million for 33,000 workers that had been scheduled for July 1. Quinn, a Democrat, nixed the raises because he said the state budget recently approved by the legislature doesn’t include enough money to cover them.

This came after endorsements from AFSCME and other unions had helped Quinn win a close election last fall. Quinn had promised AFSCME a no-layoff promise, with plans to eliminate unfilled positions instead to deal with the budget crisis. In exchange for the promise of no lay-offs through mid-2012, the union agreed to help Quinn achieve at least $50 million in savings.

AFSCME State Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer said that with his move to revoke expected raises, Quinn had sunk even lower” than Republican governors Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Chris Christie in New Jersey who have viciously attacked collective bargaining rights for public employees. In a statement Bayer said:

AFSCME members do the real work of state government, such as caring for the disabled, preventing child abuse, guarding state prisons and much more…These hard-working men and women deserve to know that their employer, the governor, will keep his word and honor his commitments under the law.

An independent federal arbitrator is currently deciding whether Quinn’s move violates the state’s contract with AFSCME, its largest union. A statement on AFSCME Council 31’s website explains:

In January 2010, Edwin Benn served as a mediator to resolve AFSCME grievances and litigation over layoffs threatened by Quinn. The resulting grievance resolution — which provided for tens of millions of dollars in cost-savings, wage deferrals and a voluntary furlough program, as well as a bar against state employee layoffs — gave Benn the authority to resolve disputes regarding its implementation. He retained that jurisdiction under the terms of a subsequent agreement which again modified the wage provisions of the union contract.

The situation roughly parallels Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s battle with the Chicago Teacher’s Union, wherein Emanuel’s administration has in his first few months in office alienated the union by rescinding contractually scheduled pay raises because of a lack of funds. The administration says the contract says the raises are only guaranteed if funding is available.

Quinn says he supports the independent arbitration, but The Chicago Tribune quoted him July 8 essentially saying his hands are tied:

I want to make it clear that those who advocate just giving out the raises now and running short of money later in the fiscal year, when you wouldn’t have money to respond to the needs of the people, that’s not a proper course, a prudent course to follow and I’m not going that way.

And similarly, on July 9, he was quoted saying: I don’t really have any other option but to follow the law, and that’s what I’m doing.”

The Chicago Tribune questioned the accuracy of Quinn’s position:

Quinn’s insistence that lawmakers didn’t set aside money in the budget to pay the raises is not entirely accurate. Lawmakers cut spending for salaries despite the scheduled raises, but budgets don’t distinguish between regular salaries and raises; they simply give the governor a certain amount of money for employees.

The governor decides how to spend the money. Quinn could have cut some jobs and used the limited money available to pay the full raises to remaining employees. Or he could have paid everyone the higher salaries and come back to lawmakers in October and requested more money. He also had the option of vetoing the budget and telling legislators they failed to include enough money for personnel.

Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based journalist, author and assistant professor at Northwestern University, where she leads the investigative specialization at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Her books include Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.

Brandon Johnson
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