By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — House Democrats on Friday passed a measure they say is intended to prevent a strike or lockout should Gov. Bruce Rauner and the largest state employees union not be able to reach a contract deal.
Republicans cried nonsense, saying Democrats were inserting the General Assembly into the bargaining process and handing inordinate power to the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 38,000 state employees.
The measure, an amendment to Senate Bill 1229 and sponsored by Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, passed on a vote 67 to 25 with three members voting present and 23 representatives not voting.
The current contract between the state and AFSCME expires June 30.
AFSCME says Rauner may be trying to force its hand in a union-busting effort.
“Rauner has said that if we don’t agree to his terms, he’ll force a strike and shut down state government until we do,” AFSCME chief Roberta Lynch recently told members in a memo.
Smiddy’s measure would allow either side to declare a bargaining impasse, at which time an arbitrator would be chosen. Once the arbitration hearing begins, a strike or lockout would be prohibited.
The GOP says the process, known as interest arbitration, would place state spending decisions worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the hands of an unelected and unaccountable party.
“You’re taking the taxpayer out of the equation because we (the General Assembly) is out of the equation and everyone in government is out of the equation,” said Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon.
“This is not a good-faith effort at preventing labor strife or at keeping government open,” said Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, “This is a bald-faced power grab. It is a tax increase bill and it is a budget-busting bill.”
Breen also got a shot in at Smiddy, a longtime union member and supporter, noting the Democrat had received about $350,000 in campaign funds from unions, and that was more than the governor had given all of the GOP House members.
“As of today,” replied Smiddy, referring to the wealthy governor’s own ability to raise and distribute campaign money.
Democrats contended AFSCME has a reason to fear a union-busting move by Rauner.
“It’s no secret our governor is anti-public-worker union,” said Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, also a longtime union man. “The end-game here, as I see it — and he’ not been bashful about saying it — is the governor wants right-to-work.”
Smiddy said his measure is about keeping the government open and citizens the services they need and for which pay.
“It isn’t about being on the side of organized labor and it isn’t about being on the side of the administration,” he said. “It is about being on the side of the citizens of Illinois.”
The Legislature, he said, should keep both sides at the table until a contract is reached.
The GOP didn’t buy in, saying the aim was to keep the union from having to negotiate with Rauner and the legislation was just a bridge to get the union to binding arbitration.
“That’s the intent of the legislation,” said Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., R-Mundelein. “Call a duck a duck.”
The Rauner administration did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Earlier in the day the governor, in a news conference at the executive mansion, declined to address reporters questions on either his budget and agenda talks with the legislative leaders or the contract talks.
“I’m not going to negotiate in the media,” he said.
If Smiddy’s measure clears the Senate and makes it to Rauner’s desk, the governor would have up to 60 days to issue a veto.
Should he veto the legislation, the Democrats would need a vote of three-fifths in each chamber, or 71 votes in the House and 36 in the Senate, for an override.
Should the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate bring legislators back to Springfield for a summer override effort, it could make for an uncomfortable vote for a few Democrats from traditionally conservative areas and a handful of Republicans from union-friendly parts of the state.