(Adds comments by governor, details of dispute)
By Dave McKinney and Karen Pierog
CHICAGO Feb 23 Illinois could face a shutdown
of its state government after its biggest labor union
representing state workers said on Thursday its members
overwhelmingly voted in favor of a strike.
Just over 80 percent of members voted in favor of allowing
the union's bargaining committee to call a strike if "no other
path forward can be found" in reaching a new contract with the
state, said Roberta Lynch, executive director of the American
Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
The union's 38,000 members, who include prison guards,
healthcare providers for veterans and the disabled, child
welfare investigators, state highway workers and others, have
been without a contract since July 2015.
Negotiations with Republican Governor Bruce Rauner's
administration broke off more than a year ago over issues
including overtime pay, salary increases and healthcare premiums
paid by employees.
“Because of Governor Rauner’s unwillingness to compromise,
his refusal to even attempt to find common ground, for the first
time in our union’s history state employees have been forced to
consider going out on strike,” Lynch told reporters in
Springfield, the state capital.
She added that Rauner "risks a strike that would shut down
state government, and he alone bears responsibility for the harm
that strike would cause.”
Rauner said he was disappointed with the union's move,
adding that the state's "fair and reasonable" proposal should be
"We are prepared in the eventuality of a strike. We'll keep
essential services running," Rauner told reporters in the state
capitol, while declining to discuss preparation details.
Illinois is limping through a record-setting second
consecutive fiscal year without a complete budget due to an
ongoing feud between Rauner and Democrats who control the
legislature. A six-month budget for fiscal 2017
expired on Dec. 31.
The union's announcement comes after AFSCME and the
governor's office successfully fought a move by Illinois
Attorney General Lisa Madigan in state court last week to stop
the state from paying its workers due to lack of appropriations.
Madigan took action this week to appeal a St. Clair
County Court judge's ruling ordering Illinois to keep paying its
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)