A judge on Monday halted Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's plans to lay off some 2,600 state workers, ruling that the state and a union that represents many of the workers should seek arbitration on the matter.
Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents virtually all of the 2,600 workers, sued in southern Illinois' Johnson County last month to block the cuts, saying the impact of the layoffs should first be assessed and that the cuts would make it unsafe for remaining prison workers.
Some 500 of the job cuts -- more than 400 of them in the state's prisons, where Quinn ultimately wants to eliminate 1,000 jobs -- were to have taken effect Wednesday. Other agencies that were to be affected by the layoffs include human services, health and family services, revenue, and commerce and economic development.
Judge Todd Lambert wrote that the union "met its burden to prove irreparable harm that would be suffered by employees if the planned layoffs were implemented" before arbitration or other efforts to resolve the differences. That could take months.
Quinn's office pledged to appeal, calling the layoffs plan "responsible and legally sound." The layoffs are needed to help balance the state budget in "an unprecedented economic crisis" that has the state billions of dollars in the red, the governor's office said Monday.
The job cuts "do not jeopardize public safety," Quinn's office said. They follow the union's refusal to negotiate proposed furlough days and wage freezes meant to minimize the layoffs, the governor told reporters in Chicago.
"The only thing I could do, given our need to balance the budget, was propose layoffs," Quinn said, noting the job cuts are estimated to save more than $100 million during the fiscal year.
Henry Bayer, the union's executive director, countered that while the union welcomed the legal victory, "AFSCME calls on Gov. Quinn to use this opportunity to revisit his ill-advised layoff plan."
"The real root of this issue is the state budget crisis," Bayer said. "The governor and every state lawmaker should commit to passing comprehensive tax reform that raises adequate revenue to fund essential services and preserve the jobs of those who provide them."
The lawsuit named the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, the Department of Corrections and their chiefs _ defendants represented in the lawsuit by the Illinois Attorney General's Office.
Quinn said the union's choice of Johnson County as the lawsuit's venue "didn't come as a great surprise," insisting the small, rural county would be sympathetic to the workers' cause. The county is home to the Vienna Correctional Center where some of the layoffs were to have taken place.