Back pay bill gets veto-proof support in Illinois Legislature

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ILLINOIS STATE CAPITOL in Springfield

By CARL GREEN

Illinois Correspondent

Springfield, IL – The Illinois Legislature has sent Governor Bruce Rauner legislation to pay long-overdue back pay to 24,000 state union employees – and it passed with a veto-proof majority.

The Senate approved State Senator Andy Manar’s measure to devote $63.25 million to wages that have been owed to state employees since 2011 – the state’s oldest debt, incurred when Governor Pat Quinn would not pay an agreed-upon two percent raise, saying the legislature had not appropriated the money.

“This problem has lingered on the state’s books far too long. We owe it, it’s not going away, and we have to address it,” said Manar (D-Bunker Hill).

The legislation passed the Senate 58-0 on May 30. It was sponsored in the House by Representative Jerry Costello (D-Red Bud) and passed there 98-10.

VARIETY OF WORKERS AFFECTED

The measure appropriates money to state agencies to pay employees the wages they’re owed. The employees include correctional officers, caregivers for veterans and people with developmental disabilities, mental health professionals and others.

The Illinois Department of Central Management Services and AFSCME Council 31 worked with Manar to determine how many workers are still owed back wages.

The largest amount, nearly $41 million, is owed to workers in the Department of Corrections, followed by the Department of Human Services, which owes more than $17 million to its employees.

Other departments are Juvenile Justice, Natural Resources and Public Health.

AFSCME estimates the back pay averages $2,500 per worker.

“In my mind, this is a very simple matter. This is money that is owed for work that was completed under a contract between employees and their employer, the state of Illinois,” Manar said. “Paying these back wages is the right thing to do, and I urge Governor. Rauner to make sure it happens as soon as this bill lands on his desk.”

WORKERS MADE THEIR VOICES HEARD

Nearly 1,000 state workers turned out at the State Capitol in Springfield May 10 to lobby for the legislation.

Even if Rauner were to attempt to veto the back pay bill, funding for the legislation is also included in the FY 2019 budget bill, which passed both houses with large majorities.

If the governor signs the new budget, as expected, he will also be signing off on payment of the back wages.

“These are by far state government’s oldest unpaid bills and they’re owed to public service workers for services already performed,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “Finally paying what’s owed is morally right, it’s legally required, and it should be easy: There is strong bipartisan support for at long last putting this matter to rest.”

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