State union workers protest in Chicago Loop

July 12, 2011 6:40:59 PM PDT
The state's union workers say were betrayed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn when he denied pay raises for them.

Hundreds of union workers employed by the State of Illinois protested in Chicago's Loop Tuesday.

"Show me what democracy looks like," they chanted. "This is what democracy looks like."

After filing a case with an arbitrator and a lawsuit in the federal court system, the state union opened a third front in its fight with Gov. Quinn when workers took to the streets outside dozens of state office buildings to protest the state's denial of their contracted two percent pay increase. Many workers say that was the last straw.

"Everybody has expenses to pay it makes no difference whether you work for government or somebody else," said a union worker who did not want to be named.

Since 2009, the Demonstrators' Union -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) -- has agreed to defer a pay increase and took furlough days to help Gov. Quinn keep state government running.

"And now for Governor Quinn to turn around and to not honor the contract, I think it's a shame," said Lydia Williams, state worker.

The governor -- who signed legislation Tuesday to make it easier for Illinois businesses to expand their operations -- would not back off his order to deny pay raises to 33,000 AFSCME workers in 14 state departments. Again, the governor blamed the Illinois General assembly for not appropriating enough money to fund the increases.

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

But AFSCME has filed a federal lawsuit -- joined Tuesday by the teachers and laborers' unions -- that contends no branch of state government may break a signed union contract.

"If the governor can get away with this, with not honoring our agreement, any governor can walk away from any agreement by simply declaring that he didn't have enough money to pay it," Henry Bayer, AFSCME 31, said.

Bayer would not discuss possible, down-the-road political consequences for Gov Quinn, but some of his members did.

"It affects my decision whether to vote for him again," a union worker said.

The AFSCME union supported Governor Quinn's election last year. Many on the picket lines questioned how the state could still be in such bad shape financially after the huge income tax increase earlier this year.

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