FILE - Illinois State Capitol

The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois.

The state of Illinois has less than a month to set thousands of workers five years ahead in pay and explain how it's going to pay them four years worth of back wages with interest, something the state may claim that it can't afford.

The state has until Oct. 1 to set 14,000 union workers’ pay to what it would be had they gotten step increases since 2015. This comes from one of the final legal motions regarding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s decision to freeze the pay of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 members when their contract expired. The state would have to also explain its claim of “insufficient funds” to pay the more than $400 million in back wages, according to the AFSCME release.

The Illinois Labor Relations Board wouldn’t turn over the ruling without being legally compelled via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Step increases are based on the length of employee's tenure. Supporters of the step increases call them an incentive to retain skilled and productive employees.

Illinois state workers are among the highest paid in the nation, averaging $63,000, not including benefits.

AFSCME said Rauner’s office must “provide information to the Board on its claim of ‘insufficient funds’ to pay back wages” dating back to 2015.

It’s unclear whether this is a mention of CMS’ past comments saying they weren’t certain that the state formally made the appropriations available to pay for the tab that was estimated at $412 million in May or if it’s a reference to new concerns that the state budget signed into law in June would have enough funds available to cover the cost.

The Department of Central Management Services, which is named in the complaint, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The legal battle stems from AFSCME’s negotiators and officials from the state failing to come to an agreement in the years since Rauner has been in office. Rauner has attempted to have the negotiations declared at impasse so that he could institute his last, best offer.

In 2016, an administrative law judge inferred that AFSCME is slow-walking the negotiations.

“The [u]nion seemed as interested in what was happening away from the table as it was what was occurring at the table,” Sarah Kerley said.

In July, Rauner’s office claimed that step increases are subject to appropriations, which weren't made to pay for the step increases in the corresponding years.

When asked about the step increases, Rauner said that the new budget would need work to be managed.

“It can be managed to be balanced,” he said in August. “It’s not balanced on autopilot. It’s balanced with hard management by us.”

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said in May that there would likely need to be more money to pay the worker raises.

“There’s going to have to be a supplemental appropriation bill in FY 19 to address the issue,” he said. “It’s money that we owe. We’re going to have to pay it.”

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Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for INN. Lauterbach has managed and produced shows for news/talk radio stations in both Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

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