Doug Finke, Springfield State Journal-Register
8 months, 3 weeks ago Doug Finke, Springfield State Journal-Register
Wages owed to state employees since 2011
From Doug Finke, Springfield State Journal-Register :Despite warnings that more than $2.3 billion must be cut from next year’s state budget, the largest state employee union is renewing its call for money to be set aside to pay back wages owed to union workers.The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is again calling on lawmakers to approve one of the pending bills that would allocate $112 million to pay the wages owed to workers from as far back as 2011.AFSCME has begun calculating how much is owed to workers in various parts of the state based on the number of workers in legislative districts. In the Springfield area, AFSCME says more than $17 million is owed to about 4,600 unionized state workers who did not get raises owed to them under previous union contracts.“They do their jobs every day,” AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said in a statement. “It’s illegal and wrong to withhold wages for work performed.”In the summer of 2011, Gov. Pat Quinn canceled contractual wage increases for more than 30,000 unionized state workers in 14 agencies and commissions because, he said, the General Assembly did not put money in the budget to pay them. Another 12,600 workers in other agencies did receive the raises they were due.AFSCME fought to secure the wages due the workers. Both an arbitrator and a circuit judge ruled in favor of the workers and said the back wages had to be paid. The judge, though, said the wage payment hinged on the legislature approving money to pay it, which it has not done so far.Meanwhile, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office is appealing the court ruling.Since Quinn canceled the raises, hundreds of workers got them anyway after the administration found savings in budgets that could be redirected to pay the back wages. However, AFSCME said about $112 million is still owed to workers in the departments of Human Services, Corrections, Juvenile Justice, Natural Resources and Public Health.AFSCME contends that since state revenues have come in stronger than expected this year, money should be set aside to honor the back wages.“It’s a matter of the state making good on its obligations,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. “Every legislator talks about the importance of paying down the state’s bill backlog. These wages are the state’s oldest unpaid bills by far.”Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s office confirmed the back wages are part of the nearly $1.4 billion in bills the office says are 90 or more days past due.Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, is sponsor of one of the bills that would allocate $112 million for the back wages. Manar said it would be best to pass a supplemental budget bill this spring that provided the money, but that at the least the money should be included in next year’s budget.