SPRINGFIELD – After months of insisting state workers should not receive wage increases, Gov. Pat Quinn has struck a tentative deal with Illinois’ largest employee union that will bump their pay while also requiring them to pay more for health care coverage.
Under the three-year agreement, which must still be voted on by union members, roughly 35,000 employees would forgo raises this fiscal year but receive a 2 percent pay increase in fiscal 2013 and another 2 percent boost in 2014.
Some workers would also receive “step increases” in those years, which are wage hikes given to employees during the early stages of their careers.
Veteran employees would receive a “longevity increase” of $25 extra a month.
It’s unclear how much the pay raises would cost the state.
Quinn’s office and a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees declined to discuss specifics until workers have a chance to review the proposal next week, but the increases were laid out in a memo sent to members by union executive director Henry Bayer.
In addition to the proposed wage increases, the Quinn administration has agreed to honor raises that thousands of union members were supposed to receive under a previous contract.
Quinn blocked the raises, arguing that lawmakers did not set aside enough money to cover the costs. A court has since ordered Quinn to pay up.
Paying all the back wages owed may prove tricky, however, as Quinn and the union must ask lawmakers to approve the money to cover the costs.
Bayer wrote that the deal is “an agreement that beats back a barrage of attacks on the rights and benefits of union members.”
Quinn and the union had been locked in negotiations for more than 15 months, the longest that such talks have stretched in state history.
The battle quickly grew contentious, with angry workers confronting Quinn during his annual trip to the State Fair last summer as well as at various events around the state over the last year. As talks stretched on, the union warned employees to prepare for a possible strike.
Quinn had argued that the state could not afford pay increases, but backed off as pressure mounted.
During an appearance in Chicago on Friday, Quinn hailed the agreement as “a good one for workers who work so hard for the common good, and the taxpayers of Illinois who are our No. 1 trustees we have to be accountable to.”
In exchange for the raises, workers will be asked to pay more for their health care.
Individuals will pay an extra 1 percent of their salary, while families will be charged more depending on the number of dependents. Co-pays and deductibles also will increase.
The biggest cost saver will be the elimination of free health care premiums for an estimated 78,000 retired workers, an expense that runs taxpayers roughly $800 million a year.
How much each retiree will pay will depend on how much they receive in pension benefits. The more they receive, the more they would pay.
Tribune reporters Ray Long and Bridget Doyle contributed.
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