Illinois Averts State Worker Strike

Illinois Averts State Worker Strike

After more than 15 months of negotiations, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) and the state's largest state employee union reached a tentative contract agreement last week averting what would likely have been the biggest state worker strike in the country since collective bargaining laws were enacted in the 1960s and 1970s. 
Although the full details of the agreement have not been made public, it will reportedly require state workers to pay more toward their healthcare over the next three years, saving the state $900 million. 
"At a time when the state is facing unprecedented financial challenges, this agreement is fair to both hard-working state employees and all taxpayers of Illinois," Quinn said in a statement. "I want to thank the women and men who have stayed at the table for more than a year for their commitment to reaching an agreement." 
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 (AFSCME) Executive Director Henry Bayer, likewise, said the union was "very pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that protects our members' standard of living, and is fair to them and all Illinois citizens, even in these very challenging economic times." 
Although the union's 35,000 members still have to ratify the contracts in a statewide voting process, which is no mere formality, some were surprised the negotiations had actually gone on so long and come so close to a strike. 
"The thought of a statewide work stoppage six months ago just seemed unimaginable," said Bob Bruno, director of the University of Illinois' Labor Education Program. "No one could imagine this happening with a Democratic governor elected with labor support who had actually worked out some difficult concessionary agreements in the past and has an interest in running for re-election." 
The reasons for the prolonged standoff apparently have as much to do with the rocky relationship between the Quinn administration and the AFSCME as they do with the actual terms of the contract. Over the past few years, the interactions between the two have consisted largely of high-profile conflicts over facility closures, pensions and other issues. In fact they are currently battling in court over raises Quinn promised for July 2011 but canceled due to inadequate funding. (STATELINE.ORG, ASSOCIATED PRESS, PEORIA JOURNAL STAR) 

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