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Illinois' Largest State Workers Union Has Voted To Strike Over Contract

By aaroncynic in News on Feb 23, 2017 8:36PM

Demonstrators in Springfield, Illinois at a pro-labor rally in May, 2016. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

Illinois’ largest union of state workers voted to authorize a strike Thursday morning, the latest move in a long battle with Gov. Bruce Rauner over a contract fight.

“Instead of working toward compromise, Rauner has been seeking the power to unilaterally impose his own extreme demands, including a 100 percent hike in employee costs for health care that would take $10,000 out of the pocket of the average state worker, a four-year wage freeze and an end to safeguards against irresponsible privatization,” the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 said in a statement.

AFSCME represents some 38,000 state workers, including employees at the Department of Human Services, the Department of Revenue, various correctional facilities and other agencies across the state. Union officials say 81 percent of members voted in favor to authorize the strike.

Rauner declared contract negotiations were at an impasse last January, which allowed the state to impose its last best offer. The union objected, and in November a state labor board sided with Rauner. According to a December report from the State Journal-Register, the union appealed the matter in another state appellate court.

Among other things, the governor is seeking to institute merit pay, volunteers, to bump the hours in which overtime pay begins from 37.5 to 40, and changes in health care benefits. Rauner's administration slammed the vote.

“The vote to authorize a strike is an attack on our state’s hardworking taxpayers and all those who rely on critical services provided everyday, said General Counsel Dennis Murashko on behalf of the Rauner administration in a statement published by Capitol Fax. “It is a direct result of AFSCME leadership’s ongoing misinformation campaign about our proposal...Put simply, AFSCME leaders will do or say anything to avoid implementing a contract that is fair to both taxpayers and state employees alike.”

Union members however, who also pay the same amount in taxes that any other person working in Illinois do, say that Rauner needs to come back to the bargaining table.

“My family needs health care we can afford, because my community needs public services it can rely on, and because Governor Rauner needs to come back to the bargaining table,” said Stephen Mittons, a child protective investigator in the Illinois Department of Human Services in Chicago, in a press release.

“We understand the situation the state is in money-wise, because we are taxpayers too. And so we are willing to do our part, but what we’re not willing to do is give up our voice,” said Steve Howerter, a counselor at Illinois River Correctional Center.