SPRINGFIELD (AP) – Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wants Attorney General Lisa Madigan to drop a lawsuit over back pay for unionized state workers so he can implement a new state contract he says will save hundreds of millions of dollars.
But Madigan’s office said Thursday the attorney general won’t dissolve the legal action until her lawyers know whether lawmakers will put up $140 million to pay the back wages that are at the center of the wrangling. If there’s a hang-up in the General Assembly, the attorney general needs to keep legal options open, spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said.
Quinn and the employees’ union settled the dispute at the bargaining table, and his assistant budget director, Abdon Pallasch, said prolonging the lawsuit holds up $900 million in health care savings. The union won’t sign the contract its membership ratified until the lawsuit is pulled off the docket.
Madigan is considering opposing Quinn in the gubernatorial primary next spring, but officials were careful Thursday to stress the lawsuit is not a question of political ill will.
Quinn and 35,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees agreed to a three-year contract in March after lengthy talks that stretched well past the June 2012 expiration of the prior contract. The deal thawed frosty relations between the two sides that were chilled by Quinn’s refusal in 2011 and early 2012 to pay 5.25 percent in raises promised to the union.
AFSCME sued and a Cook County Circuit Court ruled in December that Quinn must pay up. Quinn appealed in January. Now that the two sides have agreed on a contract, the union and the governor want the lawsuit withdrawn, but Madigan is demurring.
Quinn and AFSCME are working on legislation to get lawmakers’ approval — a supplemental appropriation — to pay $140 million in wages owed for the past two years. The lawsuit is “on hold” while they pursue that deal, Bauer said, but it would be premature to leave the court room, particularly if lawmakers don’t approve the back-pay bill.
“The status of the lawsuit does not have any impact on whether the governor’s office and AFSCME can seek a supplemental appropriation to pay back wages,” Bauer said.
Quinn angered his labor support in July 2011 when he announced he would not honor $75 million in wage increases due AFSCME members because the Legislature hadn’t provided money to pay them. The move tasted especially sour to AFSCME because it had agreed to delay half of the raise due that month to save the state money in its ongoing budget crisis.
Although the Quinn administration paid raises to employees in some agencies as money came available, the AFSCME lawsuit involves $64 million that was never paid.
Quinn wants to put the rancor behind him now, particularly with election season approaching, but also because there are savings to be had. While he gave up the fight over the raises, Quinn is eager to realize the health care savings from current and retired state workers in the newly ratified pact, Pallasch said.
“Failing to resolve the $64 million lawsuit now risks the $900 million in health care savings for taxpayers under the contract,” he said.
The $140 million appropriation that Quinn staffers are drafting covers what remains unpaid from the fiscal year that ended last June 30 and what’s not been paid this fiscal year for AFSCME and other employees represented by different unions, Pallasch said. The administration set aside about $39 million last fall, following a judge’s order, to be used for wages owed from the 2012 fiscal year.
Contact AP Political Writer John O’Connor at https://www.twitter.com/apoconnor