Illinois state union workers protest pay cuts

July 12, 2011

(WBEZ/Kate Dries)
Illinois state union workers protesting pay cuts Tuesday afternoon.
(WBEZ/Kate Dries)
Illinois state union workers protesting pay cuts Tuesday afternoon.

Scores of state union workers rallied in downtown Chicago Tuesday to protest a plan to cancel their pay increases in 14 agencies. They carried signs that said "Governor Quinn, keep your word", "Stand up for the middle class", and "Public servants deserve fair pay."

Some members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) say Illinois Governor Pat Quinn violated their contract when he cut their raises

Others do not think the Governor is entirely to blame. "I believe these legislators think they can do things, and it takes this type of people coming out, people coming together to let them know that we're not going back, that we're going to stand here, that we're going to fight for the raises that we think we should get," said Antonio Stewart, who works for the Department of Employment Security. He is not going to lose his raise, but was protesting in solidarity with his fellow workers.

"I blame the legislature, the body in general, more than the Governor specifically," said Wes James, "although I think he could step up to the plate and do a lot to send that budget back and say, 'No, this is an obligation that we have, we have to fund it and, you know, we'll pull shortages and make cuts elsewhere.'" James works for the Illinois Department of Labor investigating construction contractors who build public works projects.

Many had set aside that money already, said Lydia Williams, president of AFSCME Council 31, and a employee for the Department of Human Rights for 30 years. "A lot of members who have large families, and they were depending on this raise; a lot of our members have children in college; they were counting on this raise; so he is putting a hardship on our members," she said.

Williams believes that Quinn should have worked more closely with the union and with legislators to resolve the issue, which she called a surprise. "Governor Quinn, we ask you to honor the contract…show some integrity, show some leadership!", said Williams.

AFSCME Council 31 has filed a federal lawsuit against the Governor to reinstate the raises, and it's also brought in an arbitrator.