December 15, 2017

Rauner appeals court ruling that employees owed step increases

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner's administration has appealed the appellate court ruling that steps are owed to state employees.

When Rauner refused to pay step increases in July 2015—backed up by the Illinois Labor Relations Board—AFSCME filed suit in state court. Last month the court ruled in AFSCME's favor, finding that Rauner is violating state labor law by refusing to allow thousands of state workers to move as scheduled through the state pay plan over the past two years.

"Illegally denying steps to the newest-hired and lowest-paid state employees fits Bruce Rauner's pattern of anti-worker behavior," AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. "Unfortunately, despite the court’s ruling, he is unrelenting and refusing to honor the law."

The state pay plan and collective bargaining agreements provide for state employees to progress via step increases after being hired. But Gov. Rauner’s Department of Central Management Services (CMS) has blocked employees represented by AFSCME from progressing through the pay plan’s steps when the union’s most recent contract was scheduled to expire.

The appellate court's decision reverses the Rauner-appointed Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB)'s dismissal of the union’s charge that the administration had committed an unfair labor practice by blocking step progression through the pay plan.

"We're pleased that the court has halted Governor Rauner's illegal action preventing thousands of public service workers from receiving their lawful step increases,” Lynch said after the ruling. “This is money that working people were promised when they were hired, money they have earned and are counting on to help support their families and pay their bills."

In its initial charge and its appeal, AFSCME pointed out that state law prevents either party to a collective bargaining agreement from making unilateral changes to the terms and conditions of employment while a new agreement is being negotiated, and requires employers to maintain the status quo.

"[T]here is no dispute that the step increases are a term or condition of employment, and there is no real question that [the Rauner administration] made a unilateral decision to withhold the step increases during negotiations," the court found. "… [T]he ILRB's finding that CMS did not commit an unfair labor practice was clearly erroneous".

The court's unanimous decision was issued Nov. 6 by a panel of three judges in the fifth appellate district. The Rauner administration appealed the decision on Dec. 12.

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