SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn's administration refused to extend its contract late Tuesday with 40,000 state workers in a move that state government's largest employee union called "unprecedented," though it won't have any immediate impact on public services.
The maneuver by the governor represents the latest sign of strain between the administration and AFSCME Council 31 as both sides negotiate a new state contract to replace the one whose term expired last June. Both sides had agreed to extend terms of that contract while talks continued.
"During 11 months of bargaining, the state has extended the contract three times and made significant efforts to compromise. But the government employees union, which has not offered a single proposal to deal with retirement health care, continues to seek millions of dollars in pay hikes the taxpayers can't afford to give them," said Abdon M. Pallasch, assistant budget director in the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.
"It has refused to recognize the extraordinary financial crisis squeezing the state," he said.
But the union's top leader condemned Quinn for sending a bad message to the state workforce and for showing disrespect for the collective-bargaining process.
"In 40 years of collective bargaining, Pat Quinn is the first and only Illinois governor to terminate a union contract," AFSCME executive director Henry Bayer said in a prepared statement. "His action will lower employee morale, provoke instability in the workplace and make settling a contract more difficult."
Both sides had another negotiating session in Springfield Tuesday involving a federal mediator. During that session, Quinn's office refused to agree to another extension of the contract to buy more time to talk.
"While AFSCME is committed to reaching a fair agreement, Pat Quinn seems intent on heading in the wrong direction," Bayer said. "Our union wants constructive engagement, but the governor is choosing confrontation instead."
In its statement, AFSCME acknowledged no practical effect from the Quinn administration's move, noting that "all existing terms and conditions of employment remain in place under state law."
Quinn's administration has maintained that Illinois' unionized workforce makes about $10,000 more, on average, than public employees in "surrounding or comparable states," such as Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.