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Korecki: Illinois faces big battle over labor vs. executive power

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A colossal battle is looming in Springfield this week.

It’s not over the budget, raising taxes, giving money to disabled adults or bailing out Chicago Public Schools.

No, this is pure Illinois labor vs. Gov. Bruce Rauner.

It distills a year’s worth of acrimony between the bitter rivals into one vote in the Illinois House, expected to come Wednesday.

At issue is whether House Democrats follow the Senate’s lead and override a Rauner veto of legislation that strips some of the governor’s negotiating powers in public sector union contracts. They’ll need a three-fifths majority to do that.

ANALYSIS

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The legislation, Senate Bill 1229, would prohibit unions like AFSCME from going on strike or from being locked out.

Instead, it would put negotiating power into the hands of a middleman through arbitration. According to the bill, if parties face an impasse, they’d first go to a mediator. If unable to reach an agreement after 30 days — plus extensions both sides can agree upon — either side could request an arbitrator.

An arbitrator would have the authority to pick one side’s proposal or the other side’s proposal.

The thinking behind a winner-takes-all approach: The threat of getting nothing is so great that both sides are forced to move closer to the middle to ensure they get at least some of what they want.

While contracts for public safety responders are written this way, Rauner vetoed the bill in late July, calling it the worst piece of legislation he had ever seen.

Since then, his office has put incredible effort — both publicly and privately — into killing a veto override. His administration has successfully lobbied editorial boards across the state for their support.

The governor’s office also has lobbied lawmakers, trying to persuade House Democrats to vote against Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, who said he believes he can secure an override. The Illinois Republican Party has circulated petitions against an override. Robocalls have targeted various legislative districts.

After the Senate advanced an override last week, Rauner’s office released a scathing statement.

“Every senator who voted to overturn our veto chose special interests over the taxpayers,” it said. “They made it abundantly clear that they’d rather raise taxes than stand up to the politically powerful. It is now up to House members to take the responsible, pro-taxpayer position and uphold our veto.”

The state’s labor unions, meanwhile, have put a huge effort behind advancing the bill. Teachers, registered nurses, the AFL-CIO and others have all hands on deck.

Unions say they have reason to fear Rauner — who has called AFSCME “AFSCAMMY” and has crusaded the past nine months to curb union power and wages in Illinois. Rauner has repeatedly conditioned budget negotiations on legislation containing provisions that would strip unions’ collective-bargaining abilities.

“In a possible signal that the governor’s office is preparing to provoke a work stoppage, the Rauner administration has reportedly solicited retirees to serve as strike breakers and considered mobilizing the National Guard,” a coalition of unions said after the Senate veto override.

AFSCME is the state’s largest public-sector union, representing 38,000 employees.

In a memo to its members, it said Rauner wanted to freeze wages, step raises, cut holiday and vacation, change overtime calculations, move workers to a less attractive pension system and make costly changes to employee and retiree health insurance plans.

Rauner says AFSCME has asked for 11.5 percent pay increase over a four-year contract, which would cost the state an estimated $1.6 billion in salary and pension.

The legislation affects collective-bargaining agreements ending by June 30, 2019.

That’s after Rauner’s first term expires as governor.

“That’s just offensive,” says House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs. “What’s at stake is the executive power of the governor to negotiate with a labor union on behalf of the taxpayers. This would be a first, and it’s not a good first.”

State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, will be among the “yes” votes. Harris points to a recent Senate analysis of past arbitration agreements, which showed that they’re evenly split in favor of and opposed to labor.

“I think impartial arbitration does make sense,” Harris says. “I don’t think having a strike or a lockout — and completely make a worse mess of what it already a mess — is good for our citizens.”

Durkin says even that analysis wasn’t enough.

“I’m not willing to roll the dice on $2 billion of additional spending from the state of Illinois when we don’t even have a budget,” he says.Let the governor do his job. Let him negotiate.”

Follow Natasha Korecki on Twitter: @natashakorecki