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Overdue union wages to be paid

SPRINGFIELD (AP) – Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration will start paying overdue raises to unionized workers July 1 even though Illinois lawmakers didn’t approve extra funding, officials said Wednesday.

Employees in six state agencies will get raises of at least 7.25 percent starting with the new fiscal year, according to an email sent to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ 35,000 members and obtained by The Associated Press.

But Quinn’s administration doesn’t have enough money to pay all the back wages immediately because legislation that would have appropriated the $140 million to $160 million necessary never got a vote in the House, where it was introduced, AFSCME director Henry Bayer said in the email.

He blamed House Speaker Michael Madigan for “blocking” the legislation, but a spokesman for the Chicago Democrat said many agencies were given unrestricted appropriations to pay the raises if they chose.

Abdon Pallasch, Quinn’s assistant budget director, confirmed the details of Bayer’s message Wednesday evening.

“I know how frustrating this situation is for those of you who have been waiting almost two years now for the wages you are due,” Bayer wrote, adding, “The Quinn administration has been working to meet its terms regarding employee wage levels. However, we still face a number of obstacles – operational, political and legal.”

Under the last union contract negotiated by his predecessor, Quinn reneged on raises owed AFSCME employees in 2011 and 2012 totaling 5.25 percent, contending he could not pay the increases because the Legislature had not sent him enough money. The union sued, and in December a judge ruled Quinn had to pay.

Employees in the six agencies, including the Department of Human Services, the state’s largest, will get 7.25 percent hikes July 1, including 2 percent due under a new agreement replacing the one that expired in June 2012.

As part of a settlement on the new deal, which wasn’t reached until this spring, Quinn agreed to pay the overdue money, to ask Attorney General Lisa Madigan to drop an appeal of the Quinn lawsuit, and to seek money for the raises from the General Assembly in a supplemental appropriation.

It was unclear late Wednesday how much is available for obligations without the extra funding. A judge had ordered Quinn to set aside about $39 million from the 2012 budget year and, according to Bayer’s email, unspent agency money from this year will go toward the raises.

But in both cases, the money is restricted to the agencies, programs or facilities to which it was allocated, limiting how far it can go.

Bayer used the lengthy message to rally AFSCME members to “keep the pressure on their state legislators” to approve a supplemental appropriation in the fall legislative session.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for the House speaker, said the proposed 2014 budget includes $35 billion in spending, in many instances sent with few restrictions on how to use it.

“We spent what the House decided was the revenue that was available and sent it in lump sums so the agencies could manage the situation,” Brown said.

The operational holdup, Bayer said, is in payroll departments, where short-handed staff members have worked “countless hours of overtime for the past few months” determining how much money is owed to each employee.

AFSCME continues to seek dismissal of the lawsuit, but the attorney general’s office said in April it would not drop the appeal until the appropriation was approved. A spokeswoman for the office did not immediately have a comment Wednesday night.

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The appropriation bill is HB212.

Online: http://www.ilga.gov

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Contact AP Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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