Rauner, union extend tense talks, avoid strike for now
The tense contract talks between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois' biggest employee union have been extended again, avoiding action that could include a large, statewide strike.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union has agreed with Rauner to keep talking until at least Sept. 30, and work stoppages won't happen in the meantime. The contract expired at the end of June and had already been extended once before.
"This temporary extension underscores our union's commitment to reaching a fair agreement with no disruption to state services, and gives us the ability to keep working toward an agreement in the weeks to come," a union statement said.
The ongoing talks come as the fight between Rauner and state lawmakers over an Illinois budget have put state workers' pay in question at times. After a court decision, employees were paid earlier this month.
Rauner, meanwhile, vetoed legislation backed by the union intended to ban a strike or lockout in favor of using an arbitrator if talks break down.
In his veto message, Rauner said the proposal was "based on a false premise that our administration has been unreasonable in labor negotiations and wants to lock out employees or prompt an employee strike. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Despite the agreement to extend the contract until the fall, the union's statement suggests a deal isn't close.
"The parties remain very far apart on many basic issues as a result of the Rauner Administration's continued extreme demands that would undermine public services, strip the rights of public service workers, reduce access to health care and make it impossible to keep pace with the rising cost of living," the statement said.
Rauner said he's working toward a deal and that the AFSCME proposal would cost the state $2.1 billion.
"Our proposals have also not been unreasonable," Rauner said. "In fact, the proposals we offered to AFSCME are similar to those recently adopted by state employees represented by the Teamsters."