Quinn pushes union on contract
The animosity between Illinois' governor and union leaders representing state employees continues to escalate.
After multiple extensions of the state's expired contract with its 40,000 unionized employees, Gov. Pat Quinn's negotiators surprised their counterparts Tuesday by announcing no more extensions.
The result so far has been much sound and fury, perhaps signifying nothing, because the terms of the contract will remain in force.
But Quinn is hoping that Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, will get the message that it's time for the union to recognize the state's dire fiscal straits.
But if that is to happen, it wasn't clear from Bayer's response to the state's decision.
Calling Quinn "the first and only governor to terminate a union contract," Bayer said the state's decision will "heighten employee frustration, provoke instability in the work force and make settling a contract more difficult."
Bayer neglected to mention that it also will cause the world to end. But even if he had, it would not have made the union chief's claims any more incredible.
Bayer is hardly the one to complain that Quinn is, as he said, "choosing confrontation" instead of accommodation. He's the guy who organized groups of union members to shout down and boo Quinn during the governor's public appearances, most notably at the Illinois State Fair this past summer.
Besides, fiscal reality overshadows rhetoric. Illinois is not just broke, it's deeply in debt — effectively bankrupt. It has no money to give to its unionized work force.
Making that argument, negotiators for management sought givebacks from the union, including a 15 percent pay cut. The union resisted and management backed off, instead offering a pay freeze. But management contends that the union won't make any counter-offers, that it keeps saying no and urging management to offer a better deal.
Quinn budget spokesman Abdon Pallasch said AFSCME "continues to seek millions of dollars the taxpayers can't afford to give them. It has refused to recognize the extraordinary financial crisis squeezing the state."
Union and management negotiators say a lot of things, some misleading, so it's hard to vouch for the claims of either side. But Illinois is definitely broke, and the contract negotiations are obviously unresolved.
Both sides will be back at the negotiating table on Dec. 11. It would be nice if Quinn's shot across the union's bow helped move the talks along.