(Adds comments by governor, details of dispute)
By Dave McKinney and Karen Pierog
CHICAGO, Feb 23 (Reuters) - 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) Council 31.
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 accepted.
“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 employees. (Editing by Matthew Lewis)