State employees get another win in pay dispute

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — In a ruling entered Friday, the Fifth District Appellate Court refused to overturn a circuit court’s order that state employees continue to be paid — despite the lack of a state budget — while those employees pursue a lawsuit.

Through their unions, the employees argue the state would be breaking the terms of bargained contractual agreements should the state not fully pay them on time.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan, D-Chicago, has argued that given the lack of signed appropriations bills, the law authorizes Comptroller Leslie Munger to issue only federally mandated pay — minimum wage plus overtime — and only to employees deemed essential.

Munger, R-Lincolnshire, and the state’s Central Management Services Department are aligned roughly with the unions’ position for their own reasons. They say because the state’s payroll systems are so varied and antiquated, it would take months for the state to make “essential employee” determinations and then issue accurate paychecks.

The Fifth Appellate Court on Friday upheld an order by a St. Clair County circuit judge letting the regular paychecks for all state employees continue.

The appeals court said, “There is no real dispute the unions, their members and other state employees have a protectable right to be paid for work they perform. We also agree with the (circuit) court that state employees will suffer irreparable harm if the temporary restraining order is not granted. As the unions stated in their motion requesting the TRO, no one knows when the budget impasse will end.”

The court rejected the attorney general’s argument that the state would suffer irreparable harm if forced to make payments without appropriations bills.

There was no argument that funds weren’t available, the court noted, and “the only harm the attorney general alleges the state might suffer is that it might be ordered to pay salaries it is obligated to pay before an appropriations bill is passed authorizing the payments. This harm pales in significance compared to the harm that might be suffered by state employees and their families,” Judge Melissa Chapman wrote.

The court did not rule on the merits of the lawsuit. It only held the unions had met their burden for a temporary restraining order.

The appeals court returned the matter to the circuit court with instructions to set a hearing date regarding a temporary injunction.

The decision marked the third in a week’s time favoring the employees.

In Cook County, the First District Appellate Court on July 17 vacated a circuit judge’s order prohibiting Munger from making any but the federally required payments.

The Illinois State Supreme Court on the same day also rejected a motion by the attorney general’s office asking the high court to intervene and take up the matter.

The issue arises because Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative Democrats have been unable to reach an agreement on a budget for fiscal year 2016, which began July 1.

Democrats, who control both chambers of the General Assembly with supermajorities, have sent Rauner a $36 billion spending plan for the year.

The governor says that plan is $4 billion short of revenue, and he wants substantial change in five areas before he’ll talk additional revenue. Those areas are workers compensation standards, lawsuit reform, a property tax freeze, term limits for elected officials and independent legislative redistricting.

Democrats say Rauner is holding the annual budget hostage while he pursues his own agenda.

Rauner argues that’s not the case. He says Illinois’ will keep losing jobs and residents without the changes, which he calls structural reforms.

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