SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn and the state’s largest employee union have reached a tentative agreement, potentially averting a walkout by 35,000 government workers.

After 15 months of sometimes contentious talks, the two sides reached a deal early Thursday morning, said Randy Hellman, a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 bargaining team.

“We worked very hard and accomplished an agreement,” said Hellman, an employee of the Pinckneyville Correctional Center.

Details of the proposed contract were not immediately available Thursday. The proposed agreement must now go to the state’s workers for ratification. A vote could come as early as next week.

Quinn thanked the negotiators for their commitment to reaching a deal.

“At a time when the state is facing unprecedented financial challenges, this agreement is fair to both hard-working state employees and all the taxpayers of Illinois,” Quinn said.

Union chief Henry Bayer said the agreement would be good for his members, who include prison guards and other state employees.

“AFSCME is very pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that protects our members’ standard of living and is fair to them and all Illinois citizens, even in these very challenging economic times,” Bayer said.

Quinn had been seeking tough concessions from the union, including higher health insurance costs and zero raises for the life of the three-year deal. The union had earlier agreed to take no wage hikes in the first year of a pact.

In recent weeks, the union had been threatening to go on strike if an agreement couldn’t be reached and urging its members to be prepared by setting aside money from each paycheck and not making any major purchases until the possibility of a strike passed.

Illinois remains beset by a $96 billion deficit in public-worker pension systems and a $9 billion backlog of unpaid bills to service providers.

Union membership totals 40,000, or four-fifths of the state-employed work force. Illinois law prohibits strikes by security workers; in AFSCME’s case, thousands of prison guards and officers at juvenile detention facilities. But a walkout could have included thousands of child-abuse investigators, attendants who care for elderly and infirm military veterans and those who care for the developmentally disabled.

kurt.erickson@lee.net|(217) 782-4043

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