State to appeal arbitrator's ruling on union raises

July 19, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The 30,000 state workers -- ranging from clerical workers to state prison guards -- had appealed to the arbitrator, who wrote in the 25-page ruling, "The state must pay the 2 percent wage increase effective July 1, 2011. As a matter of contract, the state has no choice." AFSCME Local 31 President Henry Bayer expected what he and his union members consider a favorable decision.

"He ruled unequivocally that under the contract our members are entitled to the pay raise which the union negotiated for them," Bayer said.

Governor Quinn's staff announced they plan to appeal on the grounds that Illinois cannot afford the pay increases. Quinn was on his way to Israel when the ruling was announced.

"If this current pay raise were to go through, it would cost the state $75 million, which we can't afford right now," Grant Klinzman, governor's spokesman, said.

In the past 18 months, the state union workers deferred a pay increase and accepted furlough days to help the deficit-ridden state. The arbitrator estimated union concessions saved the state $400 million.

Also Tuesday, the Illinois Policy Institute issued a report that counting benefits, state employees make 23-percent more than workers in the private sector.

"We dispelled the notion that public sector gets less. They actually get more than the private sector," Ted Dabrowski, of the Illinois Policy Institute, said.

The Illinois Attorney General's office will appeal the arbitrator's ruling in the state courts. Meanwhile, the union already has a lawsuit pending in the federal system. Bayer says the issue goes beyond the 2% pay increase owed his members.

"If an employer can simply walk away from an agreement, then any employer could walk away from any agreement, so that is very important," Bayer said.

The governor argues that the contracted pay raises are dependent on appropriations from the Illinois General Assembly, which earlier this year cut the state budget by billions of dollars.

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