Dozens of state legislators Wednesday publicly called on Governor Bruce Rauner to negotiate with the state's largest public-employee union, but Rauner has already started taking advantage of his ability to implement new contract terms without AFSCME's approval.
A state labor board recently found Rauner was fine to have broken off talks with AFSCME last January, because the two sides were so far apart.
The union plans to fight that decision in court, but otherwise, most state employees are faced with accepting Rauner's terms, or going on strike.
Democratic Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill says he and other legislators prefer another option: the governor resuming negotiations. Himself.
"I think it's that important to where the governor should do it personally. He sold himself to the people of the state as a business leader that can negotiate deals, that can solve difficult problems," Manar said. "This is a significant challenge to the state of Illinois. Make sure there's not a labor disruption."
A strike would affect more than just AFSCME members -- it could wreak havoc on a wide variety of state services.
Rauner doesn't appear phased; his office says AFSCME had its chances during the 67 negotiating sessions that led to the impasse.
"Rather than protesting a 40-hour work week, merit pay, bereavement leave, and testing employees if they're suspected of being drunk or using drugs on the job, it’s time to work together on implementing the state's fair and reasonable contract that is similar to the same contracts ratified by 18 other unions," Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in an emailed statement.
Other unions are significantly smaller and different in nature than AFSCME.
In what AFSCME says was an attempt at distraction, just prior to legislators' press conference, the administration announced that AFSCME members suspected of being impaired on the job will now be subject to drug and alcohol testing.
While most of the legislators publicly calling on Rauner to get back to the bargaining table were Democrats, Senator Sam McCann of Plainview was one of two Republicans that joined in.
He says he personally wouldn't mind being subject to drug or alcohol testing, but McCann says the governor's approach is wrong.
"A piecemeal approach is the perfect magnifying glass, it puts a light, sheds a light on the fact that we need a comprehensive, negotiated contract," he said. "That's why we need a negotiated contract in place to cover all of these issues, not just on a piecemeal approach enacted on a daily basis."
Under the new policy employees found to be intoxicated at work will get a months' suspension and have to enroll in a treatment program.