Illinois state worker union members approve strike if needed

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2017 12:03 PM

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois could face a shutdown of its state government after its biggest labor union representing state workers said on Thursday its members overwhelmingly voted in favor of a strike.

Roberta Lynch, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, said 81 percent of members voted in favor of allowing the union's bargaining committee to call a strike if "no other path forward can be found" in reaching a new contract with the state.

The union's 38,000 members have been without a contract since July 2015 and negotiations with Republican Governor Bruce Rauner's Administration broke off more than a year ago.

“Because of Governor Rauner’s unwillingness to compromise, his refusal to even attempt to find common ground, for the first time in our union’s history, state employees have been forced to consider going out on strike,” Lynch told reporters in Springfield, the state capital.

She added that Rauner "risks a strike that would shut down state government, and he alone bears responsibility for the harm that strike would cause.”

Rauner's general counsel, Dennis Murashko, lashed out at AFSCME, saying its leaders were conducting a "misinformation campaign" about the state's contract proposal.

"Put simply, AFSCME leaders will do or say anything to avoid implementing a contract that is fair to both taxpayers and state employees alike," Murashko said in a statement.

Illinois is limping through a record-setting second consecutive fiscal year without a complete budget due to an ongoing feud between Rauner and Democrats who control the legislature. A six-month budget for fiscal 2017 expired on Dec. 31.

The union's announcement comes after AFSCME and the governor's office successfully fought a move by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in state court last week to stop the state from paying its workers due to lack of appropriations. Madigan took action this week to appeal a St. Clair County Court judge's ruling ordering Illinois to keep paying its employees.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog and Dave McKinney; Editing by Matthew Lewis)