Q&A: Fighting to restore back pay

What is happening with my back pay?

In 2011, Governor Quinn canceled contractual wage increases for more than 30,000 state employees. AFSCME Council 31 vigorously fought back against this attack and sued the state. Both an arbitrator and a circuit judge ruled in favor of state workers and ordered back-pay to be paid.

While the judge ordered that back-pay should be paid, it is up to the legislature and the governor to allocate the funding to make back payments. Complicating this is the fact that the Illinois Attorney General’s office appelaed the circuit judge’s ruling.

After the judge's ruling, many state workers and retirees received their back wages through the use of lapsed funds, but not employees and retirees of five departments: Corrections, Juvenile Justice, Public Health, Natural Resources and Human Services.

At the end of its Spring 2014 session, the General Assembly passed legislation, signed by Gov. Quinn on June 30, that will appropriate funds to cover 45 percent of back wages owed to employees and retirees of these five departments. The law was passed only after massive grassroots actions by union members who visited the Capitol daily.

While this was a key victory, AFSCME will not stop fighting until ALL back wages have been paid. The union will continue to urge legislators to appropriate funds to cover remaining wages owed. Meanwhile, AFSCME also continues to fight in court for a ruling that would require the state to pay out all money owed to employees and retirees, even without an appropriation by the legislature. In a decision issued Sept. 30, a panel of Illinois appellate court judges ruled that frontline state employees are owed the wages spelled out in their union contract with state government, and that the legislature's failure to appropriate sufficient funds cannot erase the state’s obligation to pay.

Unfortunately, in a ruling issued on March 24, 2016 the Illinois Supreme Court reversed earlier circuit and appellate court decisions regarding back wages owed to state employees, ruling that the wages are not owed in the absence of a legislative appropriation.

Despite this ruling, AFSCME will continue to pursue legislative action to appropriate back pay for our members and retirees.

In the 2016 session, AFSCME is supporting a supplemental appropriation bill to pay all remaining back wages owed to state employees. The legislation, HB 3763, has passed the House and the Senate. Unfortunately, in yet another attack on public servants, Governor Rauner vetoed the legislation.

When you do receive back wages, you will first receive a pension adjustment to reflect what your pension should be if you had received the right pay, followed by a check for what you are owed.

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