SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Gov. J.B. Pritzker used his first full day in office Tuesday to restore frozen pay increases for state government employees in Illinois and took other pro-labor actions.
The Democrat gave the order for more than 20,000 union workers to start receiving seniority-based “step” increases in salary that Republican former Gov. Bruce Rauner froze in July 2015, saying they weren’t owed because there had been no new contract negotiated with the state council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. There’s still no deal.
“While we have a number of outstanding issues to discuss with state workers, my administration will continue to work toward solutions to manage taxpayer resources effectively and compensate state employees fairly,” Pritzker said in his state Capitol office.
He did not say how much it would cost the financially troubled state. Spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh later said it would take weeks to determine.
But it will likely be a fraction of the back pay for the frozen step increases a state appellate court ruled in 2017 have to be paid. The Rauner administration argued last fall it needed more time to determine how much was owed.
AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch issued a statement calling Pritzker’s act “important progress,” but Republicans sent a signal of their own that they don’t plan to ease up on highlighting the new governor’s spending.
“He’s already signed an executive order spending an undefined amount of taxpayer dollars on state employee pay increases,” Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said in a statement. “We heard promises from Pritzker that he would work with Democrats and Republicans to balance the budget. Yet today, Pritzker unilaterally made reckless spending promises without specifying the costs.”
Pritzker also took action to strengthen the state’s prevailing wage law and signaled his support for legislation, twice vetoed by Rauner, to prohibit employers from requesting the salary history of prospective employees in order to set current pay. He signed an executive order barring state government agencies from seeking salary history when hiring.
Supporters of the plan by Rep. Anna Moeller and Sen. Cristina Castro, both Elgin Democrats, say seeking salary history is discriminatory toward women. They say because of familial and other obligations, women tend to leave and re-enter the workforce more often than men and often don’t have the same chance to progress to the salary they might deserve in the next position.
“He’s trying to move forward, to end the infighting we’ve been experiencing, the war on working families, the war on organized labor,” Castro said.
Pritzker also signed a law requiring the state Labor Department to engage in collective bargaining with local labor outfits to establish locally accepted prevailing wage rates and develop reports on the diversity of workers employed on public works projects. It was sponsored by Rep. Will Davis, a Homewood Democrat, and Maywood Democratic Sen. Kimberly Lightford.
Finally, Pritzker signed an executive order ordering state agencies, boards and commissions to review how well they’re complying with state law . He directed each to review state audits from the past four years to ensure errors have been fixed.
“The taxpayers of Illinois deserve a government that is transparent and accessible,” Pritzker said. “Good government starts with making the state accountable to its people and ensuring that every Illinoisan has access to the services that they need.”