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Senate approves union arbitration to avoid lockouts, strikes

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Averting the possibility of a strike or lockout of thousands of state employees is in the best interest of state government, Democratic members of the Illinois Senate said Thursday before voting for a measure to allow arbitration as an option in difficult labor negotiations.

Senator Don Harmon of Oak Park is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 580, which would allow the use of binding interest arbitration when the State of Illinois and employees can’t come to terms on a contract.

The Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 38-17. It previously passed in the House and now will go to Gov. Bruce Rauner for consideration.

“This bill does not force any outcome to negotiations, nor does it cost the state a dime more,” Harmon said, adding that arbitration can bring a moderating influence negotiations, particularly when one side is vocal about wanting to force a particular outcome.

The state and employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, have been without a contract since it expired June 30, 2015. In addition to AFSCME, the governor’s office has not reached a deal with 80 other state employee unions whose contracts are under negotiation.

Gov. Rauner in the past has said publicly he would be willing to shut down state government as a means of breaking unions.

“Interest arbitration creates a process for breaking an impasse and achieving a contract without a strike or a lockout and the associated interruption of state government services. The ideal is for both sides to stay at the table and negotiate,” Harmon said.

“This bipartisan legislation sends both sides to the negotiating table with an independent arbitrator to reach a commonsense compromise in order to avoid a strike and state shutdown, which would be devastating," Senate President John Cullerton said. "It’s time for cooler heads to prevail.”

Senator Gary Forby of Benton, chairman of the Senate’s Labor Committee, supported the measure.

“This governor has fought against the hard-working men and women of this state since taking office,” he said, noting that arbitration offers both sides a path to reach an agreement. “I urge the governor to stop standing in our way and let us get this done for the sake of Illinois’ working families.”

Senator Toi Hutchinson of Chicago Heights co-sponsored the proposal in the Senate and said she supports it because it encourages the both sides to reach a compromise.

“Illinois is in the midst of a historic budget impasse that is causing our social safety net to fall apart before our eyes,” she said. “The last thing this state needs is a labor stoppage for the thousands of workers who keep Illinois going.”