July 19, 2011. Chicago. Arbitrator Edwin H. Benn ruled today that the State of Illinois must follow through on contracted pay raises for government employees. On July 1, 2011, a two percent pay raise was supposed to kick in for members of the State’s employees union (AFSCME), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. When the day arrived two weeks ago however, Governor Pat Quinn chose to ignore the raises for 14 departments.
The pay freeze on those 14 departments affected 30,000 government employees. To the state of Illinois, the move signified a $75 million dollar immediate savings. AFSCME argued that the two percent pay raise scheduled to go into effect July 1 was already watered down from the original four percent raise in the workers’ contract. In a good faith effort to help the state cut its budget deficit, the union agreed to postpone the other half of its schedule raise until February of 2012.
That concession by AFSCME, along with others, reportedly saved the state $300 million dollars in 2011. They also looked to save Illinois taxpayers an additional $100 million in 2012. Because the union had already agreed to such drastic concessions, it felt the Governors action to ignore the state’s half of the deal was not only a betrayal of his word, but possibly illegal under Illinois law. And that’s what the arbitrator was enlisted to decide.
In making his decision, Edwin H. Benn solicited arguments from both parties, the state and the union, on the following questions:
- Did the State violate the original and renegotiated contract when it did not pay the two percent pay increase on July 1, 2011?
- Does Section 21 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act permit the State to not pay the increase?
- Does the Illinois Constitution permit the State to not to pay the increase?
In the end, Arbitrator Benn decided in favor of the union. He noted, “The words ‘shall be increased by 2.00%’ leave nothing to imagination. Shall is not discretionary. In simple dictionary terms, ‘shall’ means ‘must, obliged to’. Under the mandatory, clear and simple terms of the negotiated language, the State must pay the two percent wage increase effective July 1, 2011. As a matter of contract, the State has no choice.”
The arbitrator continued, “As a remedy, the State is directed to immediately pay that two percent increase for all bargaining unit classifications and steps and continue to pay that increase. Within 30 days from the date of this award, the State shall make whole those employees who did not receive the increases effective July 1, 2011.” – Edwin H. Benn, Arbitrator, July 19, 2011.
In response, Governor Quinn announced the state of Illinois would appeal the decision in court.