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Illinois Labor Stalemate Pivots Towards Possible Statewide Strike

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An Illinois state union going through troubled contract talks and is now polling its members and instructing them on what to do during a strike, according to reports Wednesday.

Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has fought with state unions since taking office over a year ago. He attempted to rein in union power during labor contract talks, hoping to reverse problems with the state budget. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) remains one of Rauner’s biggest opponents and is now discussing a possible strike.

“If he gets that power, state employees would be confronted with the choice of working under the governor’s harmful terms or by going out on strike as a very last resort,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall told The State Journal-Register. “We have a responsibility not only to be prepared if the governor tried to force a confrontation, but also a responsibility to inform our members to answer their questions and give them all of the information they need to make the decision that’s best for them.”

Lindall said they don’t want to strike, but could be left with no other choice given how the labor dispute has gone thus far. The strike survey was first posted on the Capitol Fax public forum Wednesday after it was circulated among state employees for roughly a week. It asked how willing public sector workers would be to strike.

“This document confirms that AFSCME is now asking individual members to commit to a strike.” State General Counsel Jason Barclay said in a statement provided to The State Journal-Register. “An AFSCME strike could result in serious disruptions to its members’ lives – disruption of pension calculations because of a lengthy strike, loss of wages and health insurance during a lengthy strike and the possibility of being replaced.”

Barclay said the union already picked Sept. 1 as the day to strike. Rauner petitioned the Illinois Labor Relations Board in January to declare the talks at an impasse. If the Illinois labor board rules the negotiations are at an impasse, the remaining state unions will have to accept his last best contract proposal or go on strike.

An estimated 10,000 union members and supporters surrounded the state capitol May 18 to protest Rauner and his labor policy reforms. Additionally, Democrats in the legislature passed a bill March 3 that would essentially allow unions to bypass the governor.

The Democratic bill would have required the governor to forfeit his negotiation powers to an unelected arbitrator if an impasse is declared. He vetoed the bill May 16 and supporters could not override him. Democrats introduced an almost identical bill last February, which passed the legislature but was vetoed last July.

Rauner claimed on numerous occasions that limiting public-sector union power will help the state economy by reducing spending. Some state unions, however, have fought to increase their power. The governor detailed in a memo sent by his office in July that AFSCME is demanding an 11.5 to 29 percent pay increase for state employees, a 37.5 hour work week and five weeks of fully-paid vacation, among other privileges.

AFSCME did not respond to a request for comment by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

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