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February 25, 2013

Strike threat raises stakes in state union talks

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The prospect of a strike can be a classic negotiating tactic to pressure Quinn's administration. How the governor responds may depend on more than the state's financial woes; the Democrat traditionally has been seen as a progressive and a friend of unions, but he may decide that a tough stance is worth the risk if it means taxpayer support during next year's re-election campaign.

The governor would not answer an AP reporter's question last week about his administration's plan in case of a walkout, saying only, "Yeah, you're always prepared."

Quinn, who AFSCME says initially sought significant wage reductions, now wants workers to accept a multiyear wage freeze while swallowing changes in health care coverage that Bayer contends would cost each employee an additional $10,000 over a three-year contract.

"It's important that I push for the taxpayers of Illinois," Quinn told reporters last week in Springfield. "Everyone knows we have a tough financial time in the state of Illinois, so we have to make some adjustments from what may have happened in the past, but I think the union understands that."

AFSCME has offered a one-year wage freeze but wants Quinn to honor pay increases the union agreed to delay in 2011 to save the state money. Quinn has refused to pay 5.25 percent due union employees in the fiscal year that ended June 30. A Cook County judge ordered the state to ante up, but Quinn's office appealed that ruling in January.

Union membership totals 40,000 — four-fifths of the state-employed workforce. Illinois law prohibits strikes by security workers — in AFSCME's case, thousands of prison guards and officers at juvenile detention facilities. But a walkout could include thousands of child-abuse investigators, attendants who care for elderly and infirm military veterans and those who care for the developmentally disabled.

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