Illinois Human Services case worker Barb Reardon didn't want to talk politics when it came to her union's request to force the state to pay her and tens of thousands of state workers Wednesday.
To her, the postponed checks were more than a political hot-potato being fought over by Governor Pat Quinn and the state legislature.
"I just know I need to be paid," said Reardon of Murphysboro. "And the citizens of Illinois need to be taken care of."
Reardon, a 10-year state employee veteran who works with food stamps and medical cards, is among those who will not receive a pay check in July as the state budget crisis continues. Reardon's union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME), filed an injunction Monday in St. Clair County to force Illinois and its comptroller, Daniel Hynes, to issue their pay checks.
A hearing that was scheduled before Associate Judge Andrew Gleeson Wednesday afternoon never took place as the state moved the case to federal court.
Roger Flahaven, deputy Illinois Attorney General for Civil Litigation met with plaintiffs' attorney Gilbert Feldman of Chicago for a private conference before the hearing, which had been scheduled at 1:30 p.m.
Shortly after that meeting, the union announced that case was moving to federal court in East St. Louis.
Union spokesman Michael Newman of AFSCME Council 31 said he was "mystified" that the state would take the case to federal court after settling a similar pay dispute a few years ago in state court.
"We're very disappointed," Newman said. "We felt there was a very good chance we could get a court order to get state employees paid."
Newman would not speculate as to why the state moved the case.
Newman said he and lawyers for the union would be heading to East St. Louis "within minutes" of the afternoon announcement but that he had no idea when the federal court would take action on the issue.
According to the proposed injunction, Hynes had previously announced that state employees would not be paid beginning July 8. The state's fiscal year began July 1 without a budget.
The union asked for the injunction under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and for contract impairment.
While Newman said the union, which represents state workers including those staffing Madison County's courthouse in Edwardsville, had not discussed staying home from work, he did not believe it was likely.
"We could tell corrections officers to stay home," Newman said, "but we're not sure what the state would do with the prisoners."
Reardon, who was president of her Local 1048 in 2008, expressed anger and frustration that she and other state employees are caught in what is as much a political crisis as an economic one. Illinois has a budget shortfall of more than $8 billion. The legislature has balked at Quinn's request for an income tax hike to address it while Quinn has repeatedly resisted moves to cut state services.
For Reardon and the others who have or will miss a pay check, the politics, she said, aren't important. Paying their bills is.
"This is the icing on the cake," Reardon said. "We're all very angry and we're frustrated. I don't think my banker is going to say, 'You don't have to pay your bills this month.'"
The injunction was filed by AFSCME, AFL-CIO Council 31, Jeanette Rettle, Stacie McKinnie-Wallace, Rosemary Robinson, Shawne Hammonds, Karen Carthans, Estephen Beskorovany, and Mike Hamill. The defendants are the State of Illinois and Hynes in his capacity as comptroller.
AFSCME represents a range of state workers from corrections officers to child case workers. The injunction is filed on behalf of all union and non-union state employees and employees of Illinois' state universities.
The plaintiffs are represented by Gilbert Feldman of Chicago. The state is represented by members of the Attorney General's Office including Roger Flahaven and others.
The St. Clair injunction is case number 09-CH-654.
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AFSCME Council 31
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