SPRINGFIELD — Just days into his term of office, Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week signaled an abrupt about-face in government relations with organized labor after four years of rancor.
The Democrat took a series of pro-worker actions, highlighted by reinstatement of long-postponed, experience-based salary increases for state workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Restoration of the so-called step increases is good news in itself not only to the 20,000 employees affected but also, advocates contend, to taxpayers.
Step increases, required by state law, are paid to employees in their first eight to 10 years who, as a savings to state government, start at below-market rates as incentive to gain experience and stick around. Former Gov. Bruce Rauner halted them in 2015 when AFSCME’s last contract expired.
But the unspoken message was much bigger: Pritzker wants labor peace.
Granted, he also wants peace at the top. He persuaded lawmakers to change state law to allow 15 percent pay increases to cabinet members and assistant agency directors, arguing that he needed to dangle higher salaries to compete for top talent.
And the billionaire created a corporation through which he’s using his own money to double the pay of his top staff members.
During an event in Manteno on Friday, Pritzker declared negotiations would resume “immediately,” although there’s no date set.