Another day, another union up- rising. This time, Illinois' government unions are up in arms about raises they were supposed to receive on July 1. But don’t be fooled - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn isn’t joining the ranks of the governors of New Jersey, Wisconsin and Ohio.
Earlier this month Mr. Quinn, a Democrat, announced that his administration would not fund the next round of pay raises for tens of thousands of unionized state employees. July 1 was set to be the third - yes, third - round of raises for state workers over the past seven months - with more scheduled in 2012.
Mr. Quinn, a liberal who campaigned on the line “early to bed, early to rise, work like hell to organize,” hasn’t suddenly woken up to the problem of out-of-control government compensation. Rather, he simply wasn’t given the $75 million needed for the raises. Although the Illinois General Assembly passed a record budget this year, legislators funded programs and government employee pensions instead of pay raises.
Expectedly, the union brass reacted with fury, stating Mr. Quinn had “sunk lower” than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, both Republicans who recently have overseen implementation of sweeping changes to public-sector unionization rules in their states.
This temper tantrum comes less than a year after the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) endorsed Mr. Quinn for re-election in his gubernatorial campaign and sent more than $500,000 into his election coffers. A few days after the fall endorsement, the governor inked a no-layoff, no-facility-closure deal with the union. As part of that deal, the unions accepted delays to their pay-hike schedule to give the governor some breathing room in the budget.
AFSCME has said it has an inviolable deal with the government. Make no mistake - the union’s reason for existence is to squeeze as much as possible from taxpayers for union members. And they’re usually slick communicators with strong allies in the press.
But the union’s strident demands are coming back to bite them. When nearly one in 10 Illinoisans are unemployed, the state’s government unions are angry over not getting yet another raise. This doesn’t sit well with families who are losing out on an extra week’s worth of wages thanks to a record income tax hike passed in January.
Increasingly, the public is catching on to the game in which government employees, in effect, set their own pay by electing their employers. A June 2011 poll showed that nearly half of likely Illinois voters believe the average government worker is paid more than the average private-sector worker; just 13 percent felt government workers earned less.
Government worker pay in Illinois, as with many other states, has outpaced the private sector in recent times. In real terms, private-sector compensation (wages plus benefits) in Illinois declined 2 percent over the past 15 years, while state-worker compensation increased by 17 percent. In 2008, the average compensation for an Illinois state worker was $69,500. The average private-sector compensation? Just $56,500.
State workers also have advantages in job security, sick-time accrual and early retirement. Over a 40-year career, the average Illinois state worker will receive about 510 more paid vacation days than the average-private sector worker. And contrary to what they may say at the picket lines, public workers know they have a plum arrangement - that’s why turnover rates among state workers are a fourth of what they are in the private sector.
Ultimately, Mr. Quinn’s decision to rescind government employee pay hikes is less about setting up a fair and sustainable arrangement with state workers and more to do with legislative decisions that tied his hands. A state arbitrator ruled in favor of the unions last week, but the case is likely to end up in the courts.
This doesn’t change the fact that there must be parity between those who work for government and those who labor to pay for government.
Kristina Rasmussen is executive vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute.