SPRINGFIELD -- A major state employee union filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking to force Gov. Pat Quinn to honor a contract that commits the state to giving pay raises this year to union workers.
The lawsuit by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, filed in Springfield, asks a federal judge to rescind the pay freeze recently announced by Quinn that affects 30,000 state workers.
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On Thursday, the union announced it is seeking an arbitrator's ruling on Quinn's decision last week to ditch $75 million in raises to help deal with the state's budget crisis.
"AFSCME members do the real work of state government, such as caring for the disabled, preventing child abuse, guarding state prisons and much more," AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said. "These hardworking men and women deserve to know that their employer, the governor, will keep his word and honor his commitments under the law."
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the state of Illinois, Quinn, Malcolm Weems, the acting director of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services.
The lawsuit contends Quinn's action to cancel scheduled pay increases is a violation of the U.S. and Illinois constitutions because it constitutes a denial of the equal protection laws, and is a breach of contract under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.
Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman's reaction to the lawsuit was only to say the Chicago Democrat's administration will take "the necessary steps to manage the fiscal year 2012 budget."
The governor has repeatedly insisted raises are subject to money being set aside for them by lawmakers, something he said they didn't do.
But Quinn's contention that lawmakers didn't set aside money in the budget to pay the raises isn't entirely accurate. Lawmakers cut spending for salaries despite the scheduled raises, but budgets don't distinguish between regular salaries and raises. Quinn decides how to spend the money.
He 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.
Bayer has said Quinn is violating a "fairly bargained and legally binding" contract.
The union said the arbitrator wants briefs from the state and the union by July 16, when he could rule or decide to have an evidentiary hearing. The arbitrator's ruling can be appealed in state court.
Quinn has said he was "happy to go to the arbitrator."
In the meantime, the union has asked workers to hold informational pickets throughout the state on Tuesday.