An administrative law judge issued a mixed decision this week over whether contract negotiations have stalled between Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration and Illinois' largest public employees union.
Judge Sarah Kerley delivered a 400-page ruling Friday indicating that Rauner's administration should be able to implement some contract provisions but the two sides should return to the bargaining table on others.
The decision is not binding and the final word is up to the Illinois Labor Relations Board in an unusual case that has fueled the bitter relationship between Rauner and public employee unions. At issue is whether talks with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees have reached "impasse," a technical determination that could force the union to either accept the governor's terms or strike.
Kerley's ruling came after weeks of intensive hearings covering complex legal arguments and allegations of unfair labor practices charged by both sides. She noted that neither side had "acted in a completely virtuous manner" and that the negotiations "reflected a battle mindset on both sides of the table."
Negotiations have continued for over a year with talks breaking down in January. The issues include pay raises and how much state workers contribute for health plans. AFSCME wants pay increases while Rauner wants a merit pay system, among other issues.
Kerley recommended that the Rauner administration should be able to impose its terms on issues including subcontracting, vacation and mandatory overtime, while it should continue talks on key issues including wages and health insurance.
Both sides have 30 days to respond to the judge's recommendation.
Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly noted the decision concluded the administration had been "bargaining in good faith for a fair deal on behalf of taxpayers."
"We are reviewing her opinion to evaluate the next steps as the rest of the agreed-to process continues," she said in a statement.
Officials with AFSCME, which has about 38,000 members, said the ruling showed its arguments were justified.
"There is no impasse on key issues, and the parties should get back to the bargaining table to resolve them," Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said in a statement.