SPRINGFIELD — Rank-and-file members of the state’s largest employee union packed a conference room in a state office building Wednesday to hear the latest update on stalled contract talks.
With the possibility of a strike by 40,000 members of the state workforce, the hour-long session was among dozens being held around the state in recent days by members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.
“There are some 80 AFSCME local unions that represent state employees, with hundreds upon hundreds of work sites across Illinois,” union spokesman Anders Lindall said. “All are holding similar meetings to make sure members are fully informed about what’s happening at the bargaining table.”
The new round of meetings comes as AFSCME has begun cautioning members that they may be asked to vote to authorize a strike if there is no movement in the talks.
On Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn, who terminated the state’s contract with AFSCME in November, told reporters he hopes to avert a walkout.
“We’re negotiating,” the governor said at an event in Springfield. “Everybody understands it’s a tough time economically for our state. I’m hopeful that we can get a good agreement that’s good for the taxpayers and good for the workers who work so hard for the public.
“I understand their need for decent salary, decent benefits. But at the same time, we have to deal with our fiscal reality, too. So, all these ingredients go into a final decision on what we’re going to finally go forward with.”
The union, however, says Quinn wants prison guards, office workers, public health employees and mental health aides to forego any raises for the life of the proposed three-year pact and pay more for health insurance, a combination the union says represents a pay cut.
Depending on the outcome of a new round of talks early next week, the union has said a strike vote could be coming within the next few weeks.
The union also has told members to delay making major purchases until after a contract is agreed to. AFSCME does not have a strike fund to help members pay bills during strikes.
The governor said Wednesday that he has not told top aides to begin preparing for the possibility of a work stoppage.
But he said the state will be ready if a strike is called.
“Yeah, you’re always prepared,” Quinn said. “But I think the bottom line is we want to work very closely at the bargaining table. I really hope we can make some good progress very soon.”