Unions, Democrats at odds over failed “grand bargain”

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GOV. BRUCE RAUNER

Still no sign of a budget in Illinois; Rauner lobbies against it

By CARL GREEN

Illinois Correspondent

Springfield, IL – The so-called “Grand Bargain” to end Illinois’ budget crisis ground to a halt in recent weeks, but not before efforts to pass it drove a wedge between Senate Democratic leaders and the Illinois AFL-CIO.

The Senate on Feb. 28 rejected a union-opposed bill to cut pension costs on a 27-26 vote, and that effectively halted the entire “bargain” because its package of 13 bills could take effect only if all of them were passed.

Senate President John Cullerton used a technique called “delayed consideration” to keep the bill alive, but barely. He and other Democrats blamed the failure of the legislative package on Governor Bruce Rauner, who apparently lobbied with Republican Senators to defeat it, even though he has been claiming his support for the negotiations.

Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno have been negotiating all year to show that it is possible for Illinois to end its budget impasse with a “grand” compromise.

But Rauner continues to demand that some of his pet causes be in the package, including damaging the workers’ compensation program. The package was expected to include an income tax increase, a property tax freeze and borrowing to pay down $12 billion in unpaid bills.

AFL-CIO OPPOSITION

The Illinois AFL-CIO came out strongly against several measures in the package, calling them a “collision course with the middle class.” President Michael Carrigan said the package of bills would sacrifice workers’ interests, not only including reduced pensions and injured worker benefits but also privatization of public services.

“Governor Rauner and the Senate leaders are connecting a bad bill for injured workers and cuts to pensions for public employees with budget proposals,” he said. “It’s wrong, and union members have to let our state senators know we’re against it.”

He noted four of the bills in the package as being especially objectionable, including:

  • Senate Bill 12 – This would restrict medical treatment access and cut wage replacement for injured workers, which is now two thirds of salary but would be frozen for four years by the bill. Medical fees would be cut, limiting options for doctors and treatment choices.
  • Senate Bill 11 – This is the pension bill that was defeated and would have violated the Illinois Supreme Court ruling that promised public employee pensions can’t be diminished.
  • Senate Bill 13 – This would repeal protections that tax dollars are properly used when paid to private contractors performing state jobs instead of unionized state workers, thus making it more attractive to outsource union work.
  • Senate Bill 8 – State agencies could ignore competitive bidding requirements on construction jobs under $100,000, essentially allowing them to be given out to non-union contractors. Union leaders say the projects could simply be split up in parts to avoid the bidding requirements.

In interviews, Cullerton described the package as a “classic compromise” that also drew opposition from businesses and conservatives.

“This has been a bipartisan venture,” he told the Senate. “It’s going to take support from both sides of the aisle to pass this legislation. Unfortunately, I’ve been informed that the governor decided to interject himself in this process and doesn’t want this approved in this form.

The state is in its second year without a budget, which has not stopped daily functions of government but has made funding scarce for schools, universities and social services.

Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) said Rauner is playing the same game he always has since becoming governor.

“How many times will the state’s great negotiator slam the door on opportunities to negotiate? He’s refused to negotiate a state budget for two years. Now he won’t allow Republican senators to negotiate a state budget in the best interest of their constituents. And he refuses to negotiate a contract with thousands of state workers,” Manar said.

“They say that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I think that in light of today’s developments, we can say without a doubt that Governor Rauner is the problem. He doesn’t want a budget. He wants to control everyone around him. That’s not how this works.”

At last month’s meeting of the Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council, its leader Dale Stewart said the bidding requirements legislation could be devastating to union construction workers.

“We can’t get started with that threshold,” he said. “Whatever number you put in there, they’re going to beat us up.”

He recalled a similar threshold, of $110,000, formerly used by the Tri-City Port Authority as the minimum to require Project Labor Agreements.

“There was about a year and a half period – until we got some other people put back on the board – when they just broke everything out into small projects,” he said. “Everything was under that threshold.

“We’ll continue to fight it. We just can’t let it get started.”

For now, the entire package is dead in the water, but Senate negotiators are still determined to arrive at a compromise.

Union members played a major role in defeating the package. According to the AFL-CIO, more than 1,300 union members called their Senators’ offices to oppose the package.

“We want to thank all the members and leaders who have responded to the call to action on stopping this misguided effort,” Carrigan said. “We need to keep the pressure on. Working families should not be ignored and have to be part of the solution.”

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