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State Employee Union Presses Measure To Prevent Strike, Lockout

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Union-friendly Illinois Democrats say Gov. Bruce Rauner has so poisoned contract negotiations with state workers that they pushed legislation Thursday that would prohibit either a strike or the Republican governor locking workers out.

A House committee endorsed a measure backed by the state council of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees to require binding arbitration in case the two sides reach an impasse.

It moved to the House floor, with just three days left in the legislative session, on a partisan, 16-9 vote of the House Labor and Commerce Committee.

The new governor, who has made curbing union influence a hallmark of his first six months in office, wants a wage freeze and benefit concessions, according to memos circulated to AFSCME's 38,000 members. AFSCME Deputy Director Mike Newman told the committee the union has never seen such a hostile tone in three decades of collective bargaining.

"Instead of working to reach a fair settlement, and avoiding a strike," Newman said, "the administration seems to be focused primarily on planning for a lengthy and painful strike."

The legislation would ban a strike or lockout and require a deadlock be broken by a mutually agreed upon independent arbitrator who would render a decision. The process is currently only available to security workers such as prison guards whose jobs are so important a strike would be devastating.

Jack Vrett, a labor relations lawyer for Rauner's personnel agency, said the proposal would allow either side to call in an arbitrator, not require both sides to agree one's necessary. He said an arbitrator deciding on a taxpayer-financed contract is inappropriate because he or she is not elected -- "it's not a democratic process."

Vrett also disputed Newman's contention that the two sides are so far apart on a deal that would replace the current pact expiring June 30. Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said later, "We are negotiating in good faith."

(TM and © Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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