May 10, 2018

AFSCME state workers push for payment of back wages

State employees lobby for back payMore than 1,000 state employee AFSCME members flooded the state Capitol May 10 to press legislators to finally pay state government’s oldest unpaid bill for back wages owed to state workers since July 2011.

"These are by far state government's oldest unpaid bills and they’re owed to public service workers for services already performed," AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. "Finally paying what's owed is morally right, it's legally required, and it should be easy: There is strong bipartisan support for at long last putting this matter to rest. Lawmakers and the governor have no excuse for any further delay."

The back pay issue arose in July 2011 when the state failed to pay wage negotiated increases that the union had previously agreed to temporarily defer in light of the state’s fiscal challenges at the time. After the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that paying the back wages required a legislative appropriation, the General Assembly in 2016 passed a bill to pay the wages but Governor Rauner vetoed it.

Union members rallied behind the Illinois AFL-CIO building before marching to the Capitol to lobby lawmakers (pictured).

At the rally, Logan Correctional Center sergeant and AFSCME Local 2073 president Shaun Dawson asked the crowd, "How is it that the money we are owed is so easily overlooked by the very government we serve? That the state has kicked this can down the road so many times shows blatant disrespect for the state employee workforce. We have done our jobs, gone to work every day and continued to serve. The state should uphold the same duty and pay what it owes."

About 24,000 state workers are owed an average of $2,500 each. While employees in some agencies have been paid in full and all employees have received half of what is owed, those in five state agencies—Corrections, Human Services, Juvenile Justice, Natural Resources and Public Health—still have not been paid the full wages due.

"At my facility alone, 75% of our members are owed a couple thousand dollars apiece," said Dennis Williams, a mental health technician at Chicago-Read Mental Health Center and the president of AFSCME Local 1610. "Many of us are struggling with bills and living paycheck to paycheck. This money is ours. We deserve it because we worked for it."

WATCH: AFSCME local presidents address the rally (Facebook video)

Rep. Jerry Costello’s House Bill 4290 and Sen. Andy Manar’s Senate Bill 2269 would appropriate the funds needed to pay all employees what they are owed.

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