I Thought We Were Broke: Raises for state workers

July 7, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Illinois may be the fifth largest state in the nation, but it is dead last when it comes to state government staffing. There are fewer state government workers per person in Illinois than in any other state.

And it really isn't even close. Illinois is 36 percent below the national average.

Even without the overhead, Illinois is billions in the hole but still giving out raises, leaving the ABC7 Chicago I-Team to ask, "I thought we were broke."

With Quinn on the defensive this week after disclosures that three dozen of his top staffers received pay raises, the I-Team has found a much larger chunk of change that has gone unnoticed.

Pay raises for 3,000 employees of the state's Department of Central Management services, middle managers who had been forced to forgo most raises the past eight years.

"Governor Blagojevich started this and the result has been people decided that 'I can't put my life and livelihood at the mercy of politicians like Governor Blagojevich. I better seek representation to have a voice in these matters, and that is why they turned to us,'" said Henry Bayer of AFSCME Council 31.

The "us" that union negotiator Henry Bayer refers to is the American Federal of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) that now represents 40,000 Illinois workers, including a parade of new members who joined up when they saw where they stood in the state government pecking order.

"A lot of people don't like being subjected to the politicians in Illinois. Imagine if you had to work for them and be subject to their whims," Bayer said.

More than 5,000 previously exempt state employees have become union members since Blagojevich was re-elected governor, the state having to pony up millions of dollars in labor contract raises that had been denied to those workers as state finances fell apart.

I'm new. I wasn't there for all of that. I came in with Governor Quinn, and we inherited the big, huge problem. One of those problems is a labor contract entered into before the recession started that has substantial raises in it. What Governor Quinn has done is renegotiate a part of that to save $200 million in that contract," said state budget director David Vaught.

When asked when was the last time he had a raise, one DCFS employee told ABC7, "I can't remember."

That state employee asked not to be named wasn't alone. There are still thousands of exempt state employees with frozen pay-- and more on their plates.

"You doing more work than 20 years ago?" investigative reporter Chuck Goudie asked Janice Stewart of the Dept. of Rehab Services.

"Of course," she said.

"Ten years ago?" Goudie asked.

"Of course," she said.

"Five years ago?" asked Goudie

"Of course, but I'm still working. That's one thing I'm glad about," said Stewart.

While union officials blame former governor Blagojevich for the bulk of the pay erosion, they did not make an endorsement in the primary for governor and won't decide until the fall who to endorse in the November election, if anyone.

"Obviously our members are very upset about the things that he [Quinn] has done, upset about the fact he led the charge to cut public employee pensions," said Bayer.

"The biggest pension reform ever done in any state in the country, and the the unions weren't for it. But it was a problem long overdue. It needed a solution. It made pensions more fair, and it made them more affordable long-term," Vaught said.

State budget director David Vaught was among those Quinn aides who received a pay raise. But in the case of Vaught, who jumped 20 percent and several others, it was the pay that went with a promotion.

As for an AFSCME union endorsement in the governor's race for November, although they are critical of Pat Quinn, the union is even more critical of GOP candidate Sen. Bill Brady.

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