SPRINGFIELD — After portraying state workers as overpaid and then terminating their union contract, Gov. Pat Quinn now wants them to know he still respects them.
In a letter sent Tuesday to 49,000 employees under his control, the Chicago Democrat wrote that he wants to work with them to help address the state’s fiscal woes.
“We did not create the unprecedented financial challenges we now face, but working together, we must take the difficult steps necessary to put Illinois back on sound financial footing,” the governor wrote.
In November, Quinn did not renew the state’s labor agreement with members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, saying the union needed to drop its call for pay increases as the two sides try to reach a new contract.
Quinn and the union have agreed to a pay freeze for the current fiscal year, but the governor wants to keep salaries flat for three years.
Although the cancellation of the contract has had no immediate effect on state operations, it was seen as another example of an attack on state workers. Labor leaders from across the state issued statements condemning Quinn’s decision.
The governor also has angered AFSCME by attempting to close multiple state facilities throughout downstate Illinois, including prisons in Tamms and Dwight, potentially resulting in thousands of layoffs.
The union issued an angry response to the letter Thursday.
“Governor Quinn’s latest rhetoric doesn’t match reality,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. “For months, he has blamed state employees and retirees for Illinois’ budget problems and lied about their pay, health care and pension benefits.
“If he truly respects their work, he has a funny way of sharing it, by trying to lay them off, weaken their bargaining rights and drive down their standard of living.”
Despite pushing through a 67 percent tax increase in 2011, Quinn is overseeing a government that is billions of dollars behind in payments to vendors and facing a possible credit rating downgrade if lawmakers cannot agree on an overhaul of state pension systems.
In the one-page letter, Quinn said he wants to reach a “fair agreement” as soon as possible.
“I want to make very clear that my staff has not left the bargaining table. We are meeting again with AFSCME’s team next week,” he wrote. “We have made significant efforts to compromise in negotiations, bearing in mind the reality of our unprecedented budget challenges.”
Talks between the two sides resume Tuesday.