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Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 03:37 pm

No raises for unions under House resolution

Madigan sponsors measure restricting pay increases

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Kevin Holmes of Springfield devotes his life to caring for a young man with severe disabilities. For that full-time work – seven hours a day, seven days a week – Holmes makes just more than $11,000 per year, which puts him and his wife below the federal poverty level while she goes back to school.

Holmes is a personal assistant contracting with the Illinois Department of Human Services. While he’s not technically a state employee, Holmes would be subject to a measure under consideration in the Illinois House of Representatives which would restrict raises for unionized public employees.

“There are too many months where I have to decide whether I’m going to pay a bill or get my prescription because I don’t earn enough money to afford both,” Holmes told members of the House Revenue and Finance Committee during a legislative hearing on Monday. “I got into this work because I saw the value of helping someone live independently, but I think PAs (personal assistants) should be able to have a living wage.”

Sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, the resolution declares that the legislature will not approve any money for raises associated with collective bargaining contracts during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. It also says that “it shall be the policy of the State of Illinois that the size of, or a reduction in, the state employee workforce shall not be a topic of collective bargaining,” meaning threats of layoffs can’t be used as a bargaining chip during negotiations.

That may be a reaction to Gov. Pat Quinn’s previous deal with unions to avoid laying off workers and closing facilities if the unions could come up with enough other cost savings, including deferred raises. Though the unions agreed to the deferred raises and produced the required cost savings, Quinn reneged on the deal last year, saying the legislature didn’t appropriate enough money to keep certain facilities open and pay the contracted raises. AFSCME Council 31, the largest union covering state employees, sued to reinstate the raises, and the case is still pending.

The resolution originally would have limited raises to an unspecified percentage, but the measure was amended before the House Revenue and Finance Committee approved it 9-0 on Tuesday. Another amendment that wasn’t adopted said the legislature wouldn’t set aside money for new wage increases for union workers until the state’s ledger shows a surplus for two years.

Because the measure is a resolution instead of a normal bill, it wouldn’t have the force of law if passed. However, resolutions do signal the legislature’s intent. With the state’s budget-making season coming up during the spring legislative session, the resolution would make it unlikely for lawmakers to set aside money for raises.

Rep. Ed Sullivan, Jr., R-Mundelein, noted in a legislative hearing on Tuesday that while the total amount of money set aside for raises won’t likely increase, state employees at the high end of the pay scale could theoretically take pay cuts in order to allow employees at the low end to get raises.

During Monday’s hearing, Jerry Stermer, acting director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, said the state’s unfunded pension liability is close to $96 billion, while unpaid bills total close to $9 billion.

Rep. John Bradley, chairman of the committee examining Madigan’s resolution, said the state’s budget problem requires tough decisions – tougher than even the spending caps and $3 billion in cuts already enacted.

“We still have significant challenges, and those challenges continue to escalate exponentially,” Bradley said. “These are difficult times, but again, the state does not have a money tree, and if there are additional pressures put on us, we are putting everyone on notice that there is not additional money, and additional difficult choices will have to be made. …I don’t think any of us finds joy in this task. I don’t think any of us finds it a necessarily rewarding process, but it’s something which has to be done.”  

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.
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