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Editorial: No union busters in Dems’ fight for Illinois

Illinois Speaker House Michael Madigan D-Chicago left Illinois Gov. PQuinn center Illinois Senate President John CullertD-Chicago right confer while participating

Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, left, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, center, and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, right, confer while participating in a Democrats' rally at the Illinois State Fair on Governor's Day in Springfield, Ill., Wednesday, Aug 19, 2009. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: January 1, 2013 6:25AM

Illinois’ top Democrats have built their careers on the backs of organized labor.

Just five years ago, it would have been unthinkable for these leaders, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and Gov. Pat Quinn, to push for major concessions from the state’s unionized employees.

But they are now — and for one simple reason: the State of Illinois is broke.

That, in part, is why we comfortably back their efforts, in particular their push for a non-binding resolution pending in the Illinois Senate that calls for a wage freeze this year. It passed the House on Wednesday.

State government’s largest union and several others are casting the resolution, and Quinn’s move last week to terminate the AFSCME contract, as attempts to undermine the collective-bargaining process. But given the Democratic leadership’s long support for unions, not to mention what they owe labor, they have more than earned the benefit of the doubt. They are not union busters.

The termination of the contract, which has little practical effect, and the legislative resolution are designed to bolster Quinn’s efforts at the bargaining table, which desperately need a boost. AFSCME’s contract expired June 30, with no resolution in sight.

Quinn initially asked for a 15 percent pay cut and higher health-care payments. He is now asking only for a wage freeze and the higher payments. The union is offering a one-year cost-of-living wage hike freeze.

AFSCME argues that state workers aren’t to blame for the state’s fiscal woes, that long-term answers lie in a more fair and progressive tax structure. We don’t disagree. But there is a budget crisis that must be dealt with today.

We agree with AFSCME that Quinn’s office should lay off portraying state workers as overpaid compared to those in other states. If the comparison bears out, it’s something to be proud of — that Illinois historically has treated its public workers well.

The real question is whether Illinois can continue that tradition. Sadly, the answer today is no.

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