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Union: Speed up contract talks

AFSCME has demonstrations on its agenda

The largest state employee union is planning a series of workplace demonstrations this week to draw attention to stalled contract talks with the state.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are organizing “Unity Day” events at state work sites. The events are to be held today through Thursday.

The demonstrations are intended to show the administration that AFSCME members will not accept the kinds of contract concessions being demanded by Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration.

“Members who work on the front lines of state government are frustrated and frankly angry at Gov. Quinn’s lack of respect for their work and the essential services they provide,” said Anders Lindall, AFSCME spokesman.

“His administration has dragged out contract negotiations for nearly a year and continues to push for concessions that would reach into employees’ pockets, driving down their take-home pay.”

In a September email to members, AFSCME said the administration was demanding a pay cut for union workers, followed by a 2-year wage freeze. It also said the administration was pressing to have workers pay more for their health insurance. In all, many workers could see a $10,000 reduction next year, it said.

Unity Day activities are being organized by individual locals and will vary by worksite. At some locations, Lindall said, union members may wear their green AFSCME T-shirts or other green apparel. Some may choose to display signs at their workplaces or have all employees take a break at the same time. Others may choose to have all employees gather outside of the workplace at the start of the day and walk in together.

Some may choose to hold an informational picket outside the workplace, but Lindall said the point of the demonstrations is to promote union solidarity rather than garner public support.

“It’s important to show that members are standing together as one. It is not necessarily an outward-directed action,” he said.

Quinn budget spokesman Abdon Pallasch said the union is being stubborn in the face of the state’s economic realities.

“We have made significant efforts to compromise, but the largest state government employees’ union continues to seek pay increases which are not affordable to the taxpayers of Illinois in these difficult economic times,” he said.

AFSCME members continue to work under the terms of their old contract, which expired June 30. Both sides have agreed to a federal mediator, who has been part of bargaining sessions.

“Our union has been bargaining state contracts for almost 40 years, and it has never taken this long,” Lindall said.

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