SPRINGFIELD – Democrats in the Illinois Senate on Wednesday overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of a plan barring public worker labor unions from striking or from being locked out.
On a 38-15 vote, the Senate handed Rauner a stinging defeat on the same day he oversaw the first Republican-led Governor's Day at the Illinois State Fair in 12 years.
State Sen. Sam McCann of Plainview, whose district includes thousands of state workers, was the lone Republican to vote "yes." Republican state Sen. Neil Anderson of Rock Island, who is a unionized firefighter, did not cast a vote.
The measure, which Rauner has described as a key test in his first year in office, now heads to the House where its prospects are uncertain. During its first pass through the House it fell four votes short of a veto-proof majority. The House returns to action next week.
Under the plan crafted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, an unelected arbitrator would decide who wins if the governor and the state's largest employee union reach a stalemate in negotiations.
Rauner vetoed the measure and spent much of this week trying to beat back Wednesday's vote, saying the plan would take power out of his hands and leave it up to a third-party mediator to decide what could amount to billions of dollars in state spending.
“Every senator who voted to overturn our veto chose special interests over the taxpayers," Rauner said after the defeat. "They made it abundantly clear that they’d rather raise taxes than stand up to the politically powerful. It is now up to House members to take the responsible, pro-taxpayer position and uphold our veto.”
AFSCME argued the measure virtually matched the same deal in place for police and fire personnel, who cannot go on strike.
“State employees keep us safe, protect kids, care for veterans and provide countless other important services,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “Public service workers want to be treated fairly, they don’t want to be forced out on strike, and today’s vote is a strong step in the right direction."
Rauner and AFSCME were unable to agree on a new contract before the old one expired June 30. Rauner said the union is asking for significant wage hikes and other benefit improvements at a time when the state is facing a drop in revenue because of the expiration of the temporary income tax increase.
Rauner penned a letter earlier this week saying he would not lock out state workers.
"Illinois government employees are terrific," he wrote. "But their compensation should reflect merit more than seniority, similar to the system most taxpayers have in the private sector."
But Democrats said he could still force a strike.
State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said Rauner has said he wants to shut down state government to "hit the reset button."
"He will force a strike with no alternative, and then he will fire every state employee," Harmon said.
Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said the measure could lead to high costs for Illinois residents.
"It's a rigged game, and its a bad deal for taxpayers," Murphy said.
The legislation is Senate Bill 1229.