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Labor experts unsure of future if Illinois state government workers strike

Published: Saturday, March 11, 2017 10:58 p.m. CDT
(Justin L. Fowler)
Roberta Lynch, the executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, speaks at a news conference Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Springfield, Ill. Lynch announced that Illinois AFSCME members voted to authorize the union's executive committee to call a walkout if talks with the state don't progress. Republican governor Bruce Rauner says AFSCME's actions are unfairly hurting taxpayers and Illinois' workforce is the highest paid in America. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

SPRINGFIELD – It’s unclear whether people who might replace state employees in the event of a strike by Illinois’ largest public-employee union could end up with permanent jobs.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration has begun to collect names of people willing to work if the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees strikes, suggesting online that replacement positions could turn into permanent jobs, The State Journal-Register reported.

But whether those people would get a permanent state job could be another issue for the courts to decide.

“I don’t know what will be permissible and what won’t be permissible because we are in this territory that hasn’t been tested legally,” said Robert Bruno, an assistant professor of labor and industrial relations at the University of Illinois. “If AFSCME were to strike, the governor certainly would have a right to attempt to run these state government agencies, and he could hire people to do the work. There’s nothing impermissible about that.”

Union members have voted to give its bargaining committee authority to call a strike at some point in the future. But an Illinois appeals court ruled last week that the governor’s administration couldn’t impose the terms of its last, best and final offer on the union until the court rules on the issue of whether the two sides are at impasse in their contract negotiations. That decision could take months to be issued.

“There’s just no reason to (strike) at this point,” said Michael LeRoy, a labor law expert at the university. “It would be against their best interests to do it at this point. The status quo is their best interest, and this is a status quo ruling.”

Even though hiring replacement workers to keep government operating in a strike is legal, union officials say it would be bad for Illinois.

“These jobs require years of education and experience,” said Michael Newman, deputy director of AFSCME. “For Rauner to suggest the work can easily be done by somebody coming off the street demonstrates no understanding of what state employees do.”

The Rauner administration didn’t respond to the newspaper’s questions about its online recruitment effort after last week’s court ruling.

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