January 14, 2019

Good riddance, Rauner—JB Pritzker becomes Illinois governor

Bruce Rauner is out the door as of noon today, January 14. That’s good news for the countless Illinois citizens who were grievously harmed by his vengeance politics, especially the thousands of state employees who were the prime targets of his animus.

Rauner refused to comply with an Illinois Labor Relations Board directive to place all state employees on the step they would have been on had he not frozen all step increases as of July, 2015. Instead Rauner’s high-paid attorneys sent the ILRB lengthy letters full of half-truths and outright lies about why the administration could not (i.e. would not) meet the October 1 deadline set by the Board.

Even as so many state employees struggled to meet financial responsibilities they had incurred based on the promise of those regular step increases, Rauner made crystal clear that he had no intention of complying with any law that provides a single dime to the employees he detests so much.

Now, widely recognized as Illinois’ worst governor, he’s left the incoming Pritzker Administration with a massive budget shortfall—and a very large debt to state employees.

“AFSCME members have stood firm against Bruce Rauner’s unrelenting attacks over the past four years,” said Council 31 Executive Director, Roberta Lynch, “helping to spark a broad resistance to his anti-union schemes.”

“We beat back his efforts to strip away our rights on the job. We bested him in every legal battle we fought. And, in the end, we defeated him on the battlefield of public opinion,” Lynch said. “All the hatred he sowed, the lies he told, and the harm he did are now behind us and we have the opportunity to build a better future if we continue to stand together, united and determined.”

Treating employees fairly should be top priority

There are many pressing problems and demands confronting JB Pritzker, our state’s 43rd governor. Illinois has a massive budget shortfall and a host of pressing needs. But fundamental fairness requires that a top priority for the new administration must be justice for the tens of thousands of state employees whom Bruce Rauner robbed of the step increases owed to them.

These employees have continued to do their jobs diligently every day and one of the new governor’s first acts should be to ensure that they are promptly placed on the appropriate step with a plan in place to ensure that they are, per the Labor Board’s directive, “made whole” for the wages they lost.

“State government has scores of highly skilled individuals performing absolutely vital work—safeguarding children from abuse, caring for aged and ailing veterans, keeping prisons safe and secure, aiding families in need. No spotlight will shine on them but they are unsung everyday heroes who also deserve respect and fair pay,” Lynch said.

The new governor has already recognized the difficulties these employees have confronted over the past four years.

“I understand why people are frustrated and I want to remove that frustration,” Gov. Pritzker stated today. “The state of Illinois needs to live up to its obligations to ensure that public employees are being compensated fairly. We need to bring them up to their appropriate step level, we need to compensate them for the back pay that they’re owed. In the process of that we need to take into account the financial challenges that the state faces.”

Renewing negotiations for a state contract

Right up through his last days, Rauner continued his efforts to claim that there was an impasse in state contract negotiations as of January, 2016. After a unanimous three-judge panel of the Fourth District Appellate Court ruled that the Illinois Labor Relations Board was “clearly erroneous” on several points when it backed Rauner’s impasse claim, the administration waited until the last possible day to file an appeal of that decision to the state Supreme Court—only to ask for an additional 60 days in which to appeal. The union has yet to receive any notice of an appeal being filed.

In a meeting last spring with the AFSCME PEOPLE Executive Committee, JB Pritzker indicated that he intended to renew state employee contract negotiations as soon as feasible after taking office. Since then he has restated that commitment on a number of occasions. Council 31 is re-convening the AFSCME Bargaining Committee this month in order to ensure that our union is fully prepared to resume negotiations at the earliest possible date.

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