Arbitrator rules Quinn can’t cancel raises

July 19, 2011

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(Getty Images/Frank Polich)

A victory on Tuesday for a public employee union in Illinois, as an arbitrator ruled that Gov. Pat Quinn cannot cancel pay raises promised to state workers. But the issue is far from settled.

Roughly 30,000 state employees were affected by the administration's decision to cancel the raises. Quinn has said he had no choice; the legislature just did not appropriate enough money to pay for them.

The union AFSCME appealed that decision to the arbitrator who last year worked out a labor deal with the governor. That deal said pay rates "shall be increased by 2.00%" on July first of this year.

Arbitrator Edwin Benn wrote on Tuesday, "These are hard fiscal times for the State - no doubt. However, when the State did not pay the increase...the State did not keep its promise."

Benn noted he has power to interpret only the labor deal, and it's up to the courts to decide if the state has the authority under the law and constitution to cancel the raises because the legislature did not to fund them.

And to the courts this case will go. In an email, a spokesman for Quinn said the administration will appeal the arbitrator's ruling.

"Funding these raises would mean that these agencies would not be able to make payroll for the entire year, disrupting core services for the people of Illinois, including children, the elderly and those with special needs,” Grant Klinzman wrote.

The pay raise dispute is the latest chapter in Quinn’s very uneven relationship with AFSCME. In the February 2010 Democratic primary, the union declined to endorse either Quinn or his opponent, state Comptroller Dan Hynes.

In the fall, though, AFSCME supported the governor over his chief opponent, Republican state Sen. Bill Brady. It donated more than $200,000 to Quinn’s campaign.