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Labor board: Taxpayers owe union workers $412 million in unpaid step increases

Illinois state workers are among the highest paid in the nation, averaging $63,000, not counting benefits.

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois (Illinois News Network) — As early as this fall, Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois’ lawmakers could see a $412 million hole added to a budget that many say was unbalanced to begin with.

The Illinois Labor Relations Board Tuesday evening denied Rauner’s request to send a ruling on $412 million in step increases that an Illinois court says is owed to 14,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 to an administrative law judge for another hearing.

Rauner froze automatic compounding pay hikes when he took office in 2015, saying lawmakers never appropriated the money. After AFSCME challenged Rauner’s freeze, Illinois courts said those step increases were owed.

In a news release, AFSCME says it will petition for a “make-whole remedy” after the Labor Relations Board meets in July, when it is expected to refer the matter to a compliance officer. The officer then will have 75 days to act.

“Our union will keep doing everything possible to make sure that employees are placed on the correct step and made whole for the increases they’ve been denied,” AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch said.

Step increases, an automatic pay increase not based on merit or performance but based on provisions of AFSCME’s contract with the state, are calculated as a percentage increase in each additional year of seniority up to a maximum of 11 years. In 2015, the cost of the raises was $38.7 million, but that balloons to more than $170 million by the coming fiscal year.

Rauner’s office was not immediately available to respond to requests for comment.