- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner said Wednesday that he won’t lock out state workers if his administration and the largest public-employee union can’t agree on a new contract, but both sides acknowledged that they are nowhere near a deal.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ contract expired June 30, though both sides have agreed to keep workers on the job through September.

Rauner, a businessman-turned-governor who has made weakening public-worker unions a core piece of his political agenda, said “under no circumstance” would he prevent employees from coming to work if they hit an impasse. He said he’s trying to protect taxpayers by seeking concessions for a contract worth roughly $7 billion, or 20 percent of Illinois’ operating budget. But he said there has been little or no progress in negotiations, adding: “We’re stuck.”

“If I wanted to do a lockout … I would have already done it,” Rauner said. “I hope we don’t have to take a strike, but I don’t control that.”

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said Rauner’s actions “have not matched his words.”

He noted that Rauner said while campaigning for governor that he would shut down the government if needed to curb union influence, and that the administration has recently reached out to retired employees to ask if they’d be willing to work if needed.

“Even if there is no lockout, Gov. Rauner could try to impose his extreme demands and force employees to strike in response,” Lindall said. He also said “our union is committed to reaching an agreement at the table.”

Rauner wants AFSCME to agree to a contract similar to one reached with Teamsters Local 700. It includes a four-year freeze on wages and a new incentive program that gives bonuses to workers based on performance or cost savings. He said AFSCME hasn’t agreed to concessions and wants a pay increase and no changes to work rules, among other things.

Lindall said AFSCME “has made very few and very modest proposals” and has worked to address concerns of Rauner’s administration.

AFSCME wants lawmakers to override Rauner’s veto of legislation that would block public-employee strikes and management lockouts, and to send any contract-negotiation impasses to binding arbitration. But it appears unlikely there would be enough votes in the House to do so.

Rauner called the bill “a declaration of war” on taxpayers because it would take away his authority to negotiate. He also said the “vast preponderance” of arbitrators are “bureaucrats” with ties to organized labor.

The back-and-forth came as Rauner’s office confirmed it plans to lay off at least 171 state employees.

Spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said the administration notified labor unions that the workers will be let go effective Sept. 30. She pinned the blame on Democrats who sent Rauner a budget that was about $4 billion short of revenue. The governor vetoed most of the spending plan, and lawmakers have been unable to agree on a new one for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Unions say the layoffs could be avoided if Rauner would drop his “extreme political agenda,” which includes allowing local governments to opt out of collective bargaining.

Most of the layoffs are in the Department of Natural Resources, where 107 people will lose their jobs. Many of them are employees of the Illinois State Museum, which Rauner has targeted for closure because of the budget crisis.

A bipartisan committee voted 7-2 on Wednesday against the closing of the museum and the Hardin County Work Camp in southern Illinois, though the vote is non-binding and Rauner has indicated he’ll proceed with the closures.

Lawmakers also gave final approval to legislation to forego a roughly $1,400 pay raise after Rauner blasted them for taking the money during the budget crisis. The Senate voted 49-2 to reject the automatic 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment. The House voted to stop the pay hike last week.

Democratic Sens. Kimberly Lightford of Maywood and Emil Jones III of Chicago voted no.


The bills are SB1229 and HB576.


Associated Press political writer John O’Connor contributed.


Follow Sara Burnett on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sara_burnett

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