While Pritzker talks state worker furloughs, New York delays raises

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
January 14, 2021

While Pritzker talks state worker furloughs, New York delays raises

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker could delay the $313 million in raises state workers have yet to receive, but instead he’s considering taking $75 million from their paychecks and leaving taxpayers without their services.

COVID-19 put so much strain on state finances, that many Democratic governors turned to state workers to rein in expenses, including New York just extending a pay freeze for around 135,000 workers.

But not in Illinois.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker refused to even discuss delaying $261 million in state worker raises last year. He is getting ready to pay another $313 million in raises this year.

Instead of freezing future raises that could help fill as much as a $4.9 billion budget deficit this year, he is considering making workers take days off without pay – a move that takes a bite from their paychecks, denies services to state residents and only makes a $75 million nick in a massive deficit.

The state was facing a $3.9 billion budget deficit for the 2021 fiscal year. That deficit may be as much as $4.9 billion now that lame duck lawmakers refused to back Pritzker’s plan to tax small businesses as much as $1 billion by taking away a state tax credit that Congress deemed important to help businesses survive the COVID-19 economic downturn.

The projected deficit is $4.8 billion for 2022.

Pritzker announced more than $700 million in potential cuts in December, including $75 million in personnel cuts for workers represented by AFSCME Council 31 and other unions.

Pritzker should have considered delaying the $261 million in raises for state workers in 2020 to help forestall some of these cuts and potential worker furloughs. But he can change course in 2021.

Rather than stripping workers of pay altogether, Pritzker should negotiate a pay freeze for workers represented by AFSCME Council 31, who are scheduled to receive two raises on July 1: a general increase in pay of 3.95%, which will cost the state $91 million, as well as additional “step” increases for an additional year of service that will cost the state at least $222 million. Total: $313 million.

Illinois’ dire financial outlook – and the possibility of furloughs on the horizon – should be a catalyst to get AFSCME Council 31 and the governor to the bargaining table.

Pritzker should have delayed state worker raises in 2020

 In July 2020, state workers represented by AFSCME Council 31 received at least $261 million in automatic raises: a general increase in pay of 2.1%, which cost the state $47 million, as well as additional “step” increases for an additional year of service that cost the state at least $214 million.

Delaying these pay increases could have helped free state funds to be used for relief for vulnerable Illinoisans and those financially devastated by the crisis – or even to stave off worker furloughs or layoffs in the long run.

But instead, Pritzker refused to even consider freezing state worker pay. In an April 23 press conference extending his stay-at-home order through May 30, Pritzker was asked whether that $261 million could be adjusted as part of budget changes.

“That’s not something that we’re currently having discussions about,” he answered. He pointed out that the raises are part of state contracts negotiated with workers.

Now state workers are facing $75 million in personnel cuts.

Pritzker should consider delaying the $313 million in state worker raises in 2021

Admittedly, delaying raises outlined in a collective bargaining agreement is uncharted territory for the state. AFSCME Council 31 would argue the state is contractually bound to provide those raises under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act. But similar contracts didn’t stop governors in other states.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo just extended his state workers’ pay freeze. When he first implemented a freeze in April, he explained why it was better than the alternatives.

“You could do layoffs or you could buy some time,” Cuomo said. “Let’s freeze the raises because that’s better than actually losing your job.”

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

After all, 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 face time off without pay – or even permanent time off as the crisis deepens.

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