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AFSCME State Workers Mull Strike As Negotiations Stall

By aaroncynic in News on Feb 26, 2013 5:20PM

Illinois’ largest employee union could potentially call for a strike vote next week if negotiations continue to stall with Gov. Pat Quinn’s office this week. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which represents some 40,000 state workers, is considering calling its members to vote on a work stoppage authorization if contract talks continue to fail.

Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME told the Associated Press, "People are getting to the point where they're so angry and so frustrated that they think, what's the use of sitting down with these folks every two or three weeks if nothing's going to change?"

State officials and AFSCME have been negotiating for more than a year on a new contract. The governor's office wants workers to accept a wage freeze and move employees down two pay grades in the first year of the contract, plus they would bear increased costs of health care coverage. AFSCME contends that could cost employees $10,000 over a three-year contract.

Governor Quinn told reporters last week, “It's important that I push for the taxpayers of Illinois. Everyone knows we have a tough financial time in the state of Illinois, so we have to make some adjustments from what may have happened in the past, but I think the union understands that.”

The contentious battle between AFSCME and Quinn, which heated up last year over the Governor’s shutdown of several Illinois prisons, could become a problematic political issue for Quinn. While voters are certainly concerned over the state’s budget crisis, a strike from AFSCME could mean the shutdown of several government agencies. Security forces are prohibited from walking out, but AFSCME represents around fourth-fifth’s of the state’s entire workforce. Additionally, a strike could see other unions walking the picket line in solidarity. Martin Malin, director of the Institute for Law and the Workplace at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law told the AP a strike “would be very, very high-risk on both sides.”