The question of whether Governor Pat Quinn has the authority to rescind pay raises guaranteed to members of the state's largest public-employee union continues to be dodged. That's despite an arbitrator declaring it "one of the most important collective bargaining cases" in years. A Cook County Circuit Court judge had asked the arbitrator to look through the state budget to determine if Illinois had the money to pay the higher salaries. But in an opinion issued this week the arbitrator lobbed it back to the judge. Arbitrator Edwin Benn says it's a legal question, and should be decided in the courts. Benn also wrote it should be decided quickly. He says multi-year contracts are the "bedrock" of collective bargaining, and that's being undermined by the dispute. Anders Lindall is a spokesman for AFSCME, the union. He says Governor Pat Quinn pays lip service to public workers, but the pay freeze is an assault on the process:
"If the boss can simply say 'it's not convenient for me', or 'I don't want to', or 'I can't afford' to keep my promises to my workers, then what good is that collective bargaining agreement?"
Quinn's spokeswoman says last year's budget didn't provide the money to pay the raises, so Quinn had no choice; he can only constitutionally spend money if it was appropriated by legislators. Neither side will say what effect the dispute is having as they negotiate a new contract. They've already missed a July 1st deadline, and are set to meet again Monday.
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