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Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011 05:30 pm

State union accepts halved raises

Agreement prevents layoffs and saves state $50 million

The largest union of state employees has ratified an agreement with the State of Illinois for the state to save upwards of $50 million in exchange for a promise of no layoffs.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 signed an agreement with Gov. Pat Quinn in November to implement several money-saving measures meant to reduce state costs by at least $50 million, with possible savings of up to $100 million. In December, AFSCME members approved the agreement with a 79 percent vote of its membership.

The agreement resulted from an announcement by Quinn in July 2009 that he would lay off 2,600 state workers to save the state money. AFSCME filed a lawsuit and obtained a court injunction barring the layoffs, and the case went to mediation. There, the two sides agreed to abandon the layoffs and litigation if the union could find $50 million in other cost-saving ideas. The agreed-upon measures include decreasing a July 2011 pay raise from four percent to two percent, instituting a voluntary furlough program and eliminating costly mandatory overtime by hiring more state workers.

Anders Lindall, AFSCME Council 31 spokesman, says the reduced raises will save the state $30 million, and workers will receive the second half of the raise in February 2012. Raises will not be deferred for employees who file an irrevocable notice of intent to retire before January 2012.

The voluntary furlough program would offer one paid day off of work for every two unpaid furlough days a state employee takes. Lindall says the program will be an incentive for workers to take furlough days and is expected to save the state $6 million.

Asked whether having workers take more days off would cause interruptions or delays in state services, Lindall says days off will be scheduled to coincide with holidays and slow periods to minimize such disruptions.

“It’s a concern in that Illinois has the nation’s fewest state employees; we’re terribly short of staff,” he says. “But, supervisors do not approve the furlough time if it’s operationally problematic.”

Eliminating mandatory overtime will save the state an estimated $3 million, Lindall says. In facilities that require staff 24 hours a day – state prisons, mental institutions and veteran homes – workers in the past had been required to work overtime at a rate of 1.5 times the usual hourly wage. By hiring more workers, mandatory overtime will be eliminated, Lindall says, adding that the savings are enhanced because new employees will work at a lower base wage than more senior employees. A potential increase to the state’s long-term pension payments and other costs due to hiring new employees will be dwarfed by the savings from eliminating mandatory overtime, he says.

The plan also calls for a reduction in paper use, reorganizing the Illinois Department of Corrections parole car program, expansion of recycling and salvage programs at IDOC and more.

“Our goal in all of this is to maintain vital services that AFSCME members provide in their communities all across Illinois,” Lindall says. “Demand [for services] is up; we need to meet that demand, not reduce services. ...We need to do that while trying to find any savings possible to reduce costs because of the state’s terrific budget deficit.”

Several other ideas, including statewide energy efficiency measures, centralized court reporting and increased utilization of surplus state land, are under consideration as well, he says.

“The savings we’ve made so far are comparably small, but important nonetheless,” he says. “It’s a part of the solution. A comprehensive tax reform that raises revenue is going to be the centerpiece of a real solution to the budget crisis, but state employees are doing their part.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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