'Let me do my job': Rauner asks lawmakers to skip union-strike override, allow negotiations

Imploring them to "let me do my job," Gov. Bruce Rauner asked Illinois lawmakers Tuesday not to undo his veto of a measure authorizing an unelected arbitrator to decide a potential labor-negotiation stalemate.

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The Republican governor is locked in tense negotiations over a labor contract to replace a pact that expired June 30 with about 36,000 state workers, members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Rauner believes the plan, which would ban a union strike or government lockout in favor of third-party mediation, is linked to his having taken no union campaign money.

"If our ability to negotiate with AFSCME gets stripped away, it's likely going to cost taxpayers in Illinois billions of dollars beyond what I think we could negotiate if we were allowed to do it in good faith and complete the process," Rauner said while visiting reporters in the Capitol. "It's a big deal."

Rauner says AFSCME members have benefited for years from generous salary and benefit boosts from, particularly, Democratic governors currying favor. There has been little progress in months of talks between the two sides. Rauner now promises no lockout and no wage cuts.

Rauner released his missive on the eve of an expected vote by the Democratic-controlled Senate to override the veto. "We're asking them, 'Just let me do my job,'" Rauner said.

The legislation, which appeared in the General Assembly in late May, sought to tamper fears of a lockout and replacement-worker hiring; Rauner had spoken admiringly of former President Ronald Reagan's August 1981 termination of thousands of striking air-traffic controllers. In exchange, AFSCME was willing to give up the right to strike, although there has been no strike in 40 years of Illinois government collective bargaining.

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A spokesman for AFSCME's state council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The measure, which would expire in four years, would not take effect without override votes by both Senate and House.

Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat said the arbitration measure is one of three vetoes — the others are budget bills — the Senate is considering for override Wednesday.

"We are going to be in session, we're going to have caucus and we'll talk about it in Springfield," Cullerton told reporters in Chicago Tuesday.

The Senate will convene for a potentially dramatic showdown on what is Governor's Day at the Illinois State Fair, where the GOP and, in particular, Sen. Mark Kirk, seeking re-election in 2016, will rally voters.

Rauner was asked about the apparent stick in the eye.

"It's all good," Rauner said, laughing. "It's all part of politics."

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The arbitration bill is SB1229

Online: http://www.ilga.gov

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Tareen reported from Chicago. Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor/