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updated: 7/7/2011 4:12 PM

Unions asks arbitrator to decide canceled raises

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Associated Press

A major state employee union asked an arbitrator Thursday to decide whether Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn can cancel scheduled raises for thousands of workers.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sought the ruling after Quinn announced last week he was ditching the $75 million in raises for 30,00 workers to help deal with the state's budget crisis.

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"By refusing to pay state employees in accordance with the contract, Governor Quinn has violated an agreement that was fairly bargained and legally binding," AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said. "This is about integrity. What is the value of the governor's word if he can break it? What is the value of a contract if it can be ignored? Bringing this matter before the arbitrator is our union's first step in seeing that the contract is upheld and integrity is restored."

The union has asked state workers to hold informational pickets throughout the state on July 12.

Quinn's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He has said he wasn't concerned about what could potentially be a long and costly legal battle over the raises.

"If they decide to sue that's their right and we'll be happy to meet them in court," he said earlier this week.

His administration has notified 14 state agencies and employee unions that raises won't be paid as required by contract because lawmakers didn't include enough money in the new state budget.

The union said the arbitrator, Edwin Benn, has ordered both the state and the union to submit briefs regarding the dispute by July 16. He could rule then or have an evidentiary hearing, AFSCME said. An arbitrator's ruling can be appealed in state court.

AFSCME said going to an arbitrator doesn't prevent a possible lawsuit later.

Quinn's insistence that lawmakers didn't set aside money in the budget to pay the raises is not entirely accurate. Lawmakers cut spending for salaries despite the scheduled raises, but budgets don't distinguish between regular salaries and raises; they simply give the governor a certain amount of money for employees. The governor decides how to spend the money.

Quinn could have cut some jobs and used the limited money available to pay the full raises to remaining employees. Or he could have paid everyone the higher salaries and come back to lawmakers in October and requested more money. He also had the option of vetoing the budget and telling legislators they failed to include enough money for personnel.

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