SPRINGFIELD — A measure Democrats say is intended to prevent a state government shutdown in the case of labor-management strife cleared the Senate on May 30.
If Gov. Bruce Rauner, R-Winnetka, vetoes the bill as expected, it could lead to a special-session override attempt this summer.
While Democrats say the measure would protect the public’s access to state services in the event of a strike or lockout, Republicans say that’s not Democrats’ real motive.
The GOP says the measure is political and aimed at stripping bargaining and decision-making power from the state’s elected chief executive, Rauner, and leaving it in the hands of an unelected and unaccountable official.
The proposal is contained in House amendments to Senate Bill 1229, and it is put forth by Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, and Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park. It passed the House on May 29 with 67 votes.
The legislation would allow either side to declare a bargaining impasse, at which time an arbitrator would be chosen. Once the binding arbitration hearing begins, a strike or lockout would be prohibited.
Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, argued the process was all about unions trying to step around the governor.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Murphy said. “This is completely reactionary.”
But Harmon said it appears one side — the governor — is intent on forcing a strike.
Given that, he said, “This is not in anyway an irresponsible thing to do given the situation we are facing.”
Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, disagreed.
“This is a blatantly political and extraordinary step to take,” Righter said.
He asked the Democrats to imagine what they’d do if the GOP introduced a rules-changing measure five months into active negotiations.
“With all due respect, you people over there would be setting your hair on fire — and understandably so,” Righter said.
Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, said the measure doesn’t force the parties into arbitration; they could instead choose to stay at the table and bargain in food faith.
“We have a responsibility to protect the public and that is what we are going to do,” he said.
The measure passed on a vote of 38 to 17, with no senators voting present and four members not voting: Neil Anderson, R-Moline; David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville; Sam McCann, R-Carlinville; and Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago.
The contract between the state and more than 30,000 employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees expires June 30.
The GOP says Rauner is rightfully seeking contract concessions in a time of economic crisis and trying to fundamentally reform the way the state does business. Many Democrats and union leaders argue Rauner is trying to break public sector unions.
Should the Democratic legislative leaders bring lawmakers back to Springfield for a summer override effort, it could make for an uncomfortable vote for a handful of Republican representatives from traditionally labor-friendly areas of the state, as well as a few Democrats from conservative-leaning regions.
Democrats would need 71 votes in the House and 36 in the Senate to override a Rauner veto.
Rauner on May 29 declined to discuss the contract talks during an afternoon news conference, saying he had no interest in negotiating in the press.
His press office on May 30 issued a statement saying Democrats were rejecting bipartisan negotiation and “walking away from compromise, siding with special interests over taxpayers.