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updated: 6/19/2013 9:52 PM

Union workers will be paid overdue raises from state

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn's administration on July 1 will start paying the wage rate that was promised to thousands of unionized government workers in 2011 and 2012, although Illinois lawmakers didn't approve extra funding for back wages owed, officials said Wednesday.

Employees in six state agencies will get raises of at least 7.25 percent going forward, starting with the new fiscal year, according to an email sent to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees' 35,000 members and obtained Associated Press.

That includes a 2 percent raise owed in the current contract and the 5.25 percent increase offered in 2011 and 2012 that Quinn reneged on.

There will also be some back-money paid, but for the most part, only that which a court ordered set aside in 2012 or leftover funds from this budget year that Quinn officials have promised to put toward the overdue wages.

Not all employees will get what they're owed for the past two years because lawmakers didn't act on a supplemental appropriation to cover the $140 million to $160 million price tag, AFSCME director Henry Bayer said in the email.

"I know how frustrating this situation is for those of you who have been waiting almost two years now for the wages you are due," Bayer wrote. "The Quinn administration has been working to meet its terms regarding employee wage levels. However, we still face a number of obstacles -- operational, political and legal."

He blamed House Speaker Michael Madigan for "blocking" the legislation, but a spokesman for the Chicago Democrat said many agencies were given unrestricted appropriations to pay the raises if they chose.

Abdon Pallasch, Quinn's assistant budget director, confirmed the details of Bayer's message Wednesday evening.

Under the last union contract negotiated by his predecessor, Quinn backed out on raises owed AFSCME employees in 2011 and 2012 totaling 5.25 percent, contending he could not pay the increases because the legislature had not sent him enough money. The union sued, and in December a judge ruled Quinn had to pay.

As part of a settlement on the new contract, which wasn't reached until this spring, Quinn agreed to pay the overdue money, to ask Attorney General Lisa Madigan to drop an appeal of the Quinn lawsuit, and to seek money for the raises from the General Assembly in a supplemental appropriation.

In addition to the 7.25 percent for employees in the six agencies -- which include the Department of Human Services, the state's largest -- some workers will receive "step" increases for experience.

Still others will get back pay, but it was unclear late Wednesday how much is available for obligations without the extra funding. A judge had ordered Quinn to set aside about $39 million from the 2012 budget year and, according to Bayer's email, unspent agency money from this year will go toward the raises.

But in both cases, the money is restricted to the agencies, programs or facilities to which it was allocated, limiting its use.

Bayer used the lengthy message to rally AFSCME members to "keep the pressure on their state legislators" to approve a supplemental appropriation in the fall legislative session.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for the House speaker, said the proposed 2014 budget includes $35 billion in spending, in many instances sent with few restrictions on how to use it.

"We spent what the House decided was the revenue that was available and sent it in lump sums so the agencies could manage the situation," Brown said.

The operational holdup, Bayer said, is in payroll departments, where short-handed staff members have worked "countless hours of overtime for the past few months" determining how much money is owed to each employee.

AFSCME continues to seek dismissal of the lawsuit, but the attorney general's office said in April it would not drop the appeal until the appropriation was approved. A spokeswoman for the office said lawyers would have to review the status of the situation before acting further.

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