Illinois Statehouse News

Union Deal Sparks Ethics Ado in Illinois Gov’s Race

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

CHICAGO — A deal brokered by the administration of Gov. Pat Quinn with one of Illinois’ largest labor unions has provided fresh fodder for a close governor's race centered on the state budget and ethics.

Gov. Pat Quinn reached a deal with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents thousands of state government workers, calling for no layoffs or state facility closure for the next two years in exchange for concessions including salary increases, health-care costs and furlough days. The timing of the announcement, however, has been called into question. The deal was reached just days after the union endorsed the Democratic governor.

It also came on the eve of a closed-door candidates’ forum between Quinn and his opponent for governor, Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington. The Tuesday debate was described by each candidate as spirited, thanks in part to revelation of the deal.

Quinn hailed it as a breakthrough in negotiations with a union that was not obligated to come to the bargaining table.

“I'm the first governor I think ever in Illinois history to get concessions from the union,” he said standing outside the Commercial Club of Chicago, which hosted the debate. “The amount of savings to the tax payers is $300 or $325 million that we've been able to negotiate from the union.”

But Brady called the deal a "pay-to-play" scheme, pointing to the union's recent endorsement of the incumbent governor. More importantly, according to Brady, the no-layoff clause could tie the hands of the General Assembly and the next governor in addressing budgetary problems.

"I called on Gov. Quinn not to accept the secret AFSCME deal that would burden the next governor of this state to manage the fiscal crisis," he said. “It’s scandalous what this governor has done.”

Representatives from AFSCME deny any link between the endorsement and the still-unsigned deal.

“We have been working with the governor’s office since July of last year,” said AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall. “There is no connection here, except at a figment of an overactive, politically addled imagination.”

Quinn in 2009 attempted to lay off 2,600 AFSCME workers, but the union successfully sued to stop the potential layoffs. Quinn and AFSCME then worked out a plan to defer raises to July 2011 and cut costs through voluntary furloughs and health care savings.

Quinn also dismissed Brady’s pay-to-play allegations, pointing to the two-tier pension reform system that he signed into law earlier this year, despite heavy union opposition.

The state faces a $13 billion budget gap, an economic crisis that is at the center of a contentious election year. And the candidates have very different ideas in closing that hole. Brady, the downstate conservative, plans to reduce the size of government with 10 percent cuts in many state agencies—cuts that would most likely involve layoffs.

Quinn has concentrated much of his energy since taking office in early 2009 on passing a 33 percent income tax increase, which he says will bring in about $1 billion. He has made the idea his signature appeal to voters in 2010, while Brady has used the plan as the hammer with which to pound the governor.

But Quinn stressed that he has also followed Brady’s path in cutting government spending. The success of the AFSCME deal hinges on it.

The union must identify about $50 million in cuts in order to avoid future layoffs until mid-2012. Unpaid furlough days, increased healthcare payments from workers and a reduction in state contractors—workers outside of the union and technically the rolls of government—are all being discussed as possible cost-saving measures.

The union expects to return to the governor's office with the cuts by Oct. 31, just 2 days before the Nov. 2 general election.