Illinois scheduled to give $261M in automatic pay raises to state workers

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
April 13, 2020

Illinois scheduled to give $261M in automatic pay raises to state workers

Pritzker should join other Democratic governors in postponing automatic pay raises, which would free up funds for needy Illinoisans and potentially preserve state worker jobs in the long run.

The economic fallout from COVID-19 is causing a financial crisis for families and businesses in Illinois and across the nation, which means the state has an obligation to manage its scarce resources to better meet those needs.

Nearly 1.5 million Illinoisans – 24% of the state’s workforce – are vulnerable to layoffs and reduced hours. Over half a million residents filed unemployment claims in the past four weeks.

The mounting economic crisis is certain to be accompanied by a steep drop in state tax revenues – a University of Illinois study estimated anywhere between $4.3 billion and $14.1 billion – and Illinois lawmakers and the governor will need to allocate funds to deal with the most urgent budget priorities.

Pritzker should pause the state’s $261 million in scheduled automatic pay raises for state workers. By joining the growing list of Democratic governors who are freezing state worker pay to manage state budgets amid the COVID-19 crisis, Pritzker would give the state more room to address urgent budget priorities while also helping to forestall state worker layoffs down the line.

Democratic governors in New York, Virginia, Minnesota and Pennsylvania have all taken steps to rein in government spending during the pandemic

Democratic governors across the nation are acting now to protect their residents and preserve state funds.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is invoking his emergency powers to defer a 2% pay raise scheduled for most unionized state workers. The move would free up $359 million, if applied to the entire state government workforce.

Likewise, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam plans to delay state worker raises, as too little is known about the pandemic’s impact on state revenues to move forward now.

“We’ve got to wait for the fog to lift to make budget decisions informed by facts and data,” said his chief of staff, Clark Mercer, according to WSLS.

Similarly, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has suspended provisions of the state’s collective bargaining agreements and compensation package in an effort to create more government flexibility to manage state personnel and work during the crisis.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has gone even farther, furloughing 9,000 state workers on April 11. To get paid, workers will need to use their own vacation time, sick leave or compensatory time. Otherwise, they can apply for unemployment.

Postponing pay increases frees funds for Illinois’ vulnerable residents

Illinois was home to one of the worst economies in the nation last year, and that was before the COVID-19-induced crash.

Pritzker has already warned of impending financial difficulties with state revenues dropping, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

And there are still many unknowns, with Illinois’ COVID-19 cases still rising.

Yet at this point, the state is still slated to automatically increase the pay of thousands of state workers in the state’s largest bargaining unit, which is represented by AFSCME Council 31, at a cost to the state of $261 million.

These government employees are set to receive at least two raises on July 1: a general increase in pay of 2.1%, which will cost the state $47 million, as well as additional “step” increases for an additional year of service that will cost the state at least $214 million.

Delaying these pay increases would help free state funds to be used for relief for vulnerable Illinoisans and those financially devastated by the crisis. The state also should consider doing the same for other state employees who are not represented by AFSCME Council 31.

Admittedly, this is uncharted territory for the state, and the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act includes provisions providing that the Act and collective bargaining agreements trump most other state laws.

But the portion of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act describing the governor’s emergency powers does include the power to “utilize all available resources of the State government as reasonably necessary to cope with the disaster and of each political subdivision of the State.”

What’s more, delaying step increases should be seen by AFSCME Council 31 and the workers it represents as a means to help forestall other more drastic measures, such as the furloughs Pennsylvania’s governor instituted.

The state has the authority to lay off state workers under the AFSCME contract and can “relieve employees from duty because of lack of work or other legitimate reasons.”

Illinois’ state workers likely would rather keep their jobs – and their current pay – than join the half million unemployed workers the state is already struggling to process.

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