Hell hath no fury like a scorned lover. Last November, Illinois' public employee unions delivered a narrow re-election victory to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, one the most liberal governors in America. Now they're calling him "lower than" Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and John Kasich.
It has been an odd courtship. In early 2010, the government unions were initially mum on Quinn's re-election bid--he was widely unpopular and faced a tough primary opponent. The Illinois Federation of Teachers and Chicago Teachers Union even endorsed his primary challenger, the reliably pro-union state comptroller Dan Hynes. Quinn emerged from the primary and then approved a reform of state pension plans that applied to new hires. But then he threw cold water on a school voucher bill and agreed not to lay off AFSCME state workers for at least a year. That, and the fact that Quinn was facing a front-running conservative Republican, was enough to pull the unions off the sidelines. Quinn won by eight-tenths of a point.
Union lobbyists, quite reasonably, have since expected Quinn to carry their water. They were ecstatic when he and legislative Democrats forced through Illinois's largest ever income tax increase in the final hours of a lame duck General Assembly. But Quinn then bungled his proposed state budget for 2012, remained sidelined for most of the Spring legislative session, and has now been forced to sign a budget crafted by legislature with little influence from his office.
The signed budget plan isn't frugal--in fact it may spend more money than the previous year. But because the costs of Illinois's pension system are squeezing almost every other part of the state budget, the 2012 spending plan--while largely avoiding cuts to state payroll or staffing levels--does not include money needed to give pay raises to unionized state workers in fourteen state agencies. Unsurprisingly the Illinois chapter of AFSCME, which represents most of the state workforce, believes its members are nonetheless due $77 million in unappropriated pay raises because those raises are scheduled in their collective bargaining agreements.
Normally an executive in Quinn's predicament could offer the unions the options of forgoing raises or accepting layoffs in the face of a cash shortfall; then the unions would make their choice. But during his re-election campaign Quinn entered into a no-layoff agreement with AFSCME. (The agreement conspicuously predated the union's endorsement of his candidacy by only a few days.) The speculation at the time, and surely the understanding within AFSCME, was that Quinn and the legislature could thereafter do little to trim employee costs. Even after the 2012 budget was sent to Quinn, the union was comfortable that neither salary freezes nor layoffs would be issued by Quinn. They were wrong.
Quinn is now arguing that the governor's office has authority to ignore scheduled raises because state law makes all provisions of union contracts "subject to the appropriation power of the employer." Since the General Assembly did not award enough money to give raises within many agencies, Quinn says he doesn't have the power to honor those pay hike provisions.
The unions disagree. They say he's finking on their campaign agreement and ignoring collective bargaining law. Thus this missive in a statement by state AFSCME head Henry Bayer:
"Republican governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Chris Christie of New Jersey and others have recently sought changes in law to eliminate the right of collective bargaining for public employees. By choosing to simply ignore a legally binding agreement, Pat Quinn has sunk even lower. Not only is Quinn's assault on public employee collective bargaining unprecedented in the four decades of state employee bargaining in Illinois, given his repeated criticism of Walker and others, it is utterly hypocritical."
Quinn is worse than boogeymen Kasich, Christie and Walker. Now those are fighting words.
So AFSCME has filed a suit against Quinn in federal court. Local chapters of the Illinois Federation of Teachers have joined in. In a separate action, the unions have sought and received a favorable ruling from a state arbitrator who has ordered Quinn to pay the raises; Quinn has stated that he will appeal that decision.