By: Mark Glennon*
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan went to court yesterday to stop state worker paychecks during the government shutdown or to allow payment of no more $7.25 an hour — the minimum wage. That action, together with the background story behind it — use of the courts to deliberately sabotage an agreement both workers and the state want — comprise one of the most sordid chapters of Illinois politics in recent memory.
First, that background. As the July 1 deadline for a state budge approached, Democrats in the General Assembly sought to pressure Governor Rauner into compromise by emphasizing the hardship government shutdown would produce. On June 29, Lisa Madigan issued a statement to the executive branch questioning the legality of paying state workers without an approved budget. She wrote that the law “prevents the Comptroller from continuing to pay expenditures, including the State’s payroll, without a budget, and even a court cannot order all of these payments to be made.” (Emphasis added.)
The statement claimed that an an earlier precedent from 2007 to the contrary did not help. In a similar situation during a budget impasse in 2007 – 2009, the dispute focused on the Fair Labor Standards Act. That’s the Federal minimum wage and overtime law, which presents compliance issues absent a budget. In that earlier case, the court allowed full, regular pay because resetting payroll disbursements to comply with the FLSA was not feasible.
The Rauner administration responded that it would seek nevertheless to make full payroll. To support that case, Central Management Services documented why, still today, resetting payroll to comply with the FLSA is not feasible in the time frame needed.
Comptroller Leslie Munger, on July 1, formally asked Attorney General Madigan to represent her office to seek an agreed court order authorizing payroll. Munger’s request said she and her staff had concluded “that the circumstances today are no different than the State faced in 2007, when your office agreed to entry of an Agreed Order to allow payment to all State employees at their regular rates of pay.”
Indeed, Attorney General Madigan did agree to a court order with Democratic Comptroller Daniel Hynes, for a Democratic administration during a lengthy budget deadlock in 2007, as the Chicago Tribune described yesterday. The circumstances were otherwise the same. The court then said its ruling did not represent a legal precedent, but there’s no reason why Madigan should not be taking the same position now that she did then, which is what workers and the state want, and arguing again that the court should ratify the arrangement.
Well, yesterday, Ms. Madigan went to court seeking something entirely different. She asked that workers, during the shutdown, either be paid the minimum wage or nothing at all. She entirely dropped arguing for payment of full payroll and the rationale from 2007, which should have provided a clear path to an agreed order. See the relevant sections of the relief requested, paragraphs 35(f) and 35(h) of the complaint she filed. The complaint seeks an injunction enjoining the Comptroller from cutting any checks for more than the minimum wage. In court yesterday, she argued for just that, which I have confirmed.
If no order is granted, she’s already of record saying workers cannot be paid. If it is granted, minimum wage is the best workers can get.
Unions finally have seen through what she is up to and have taken matters into their own hands. Late yesterday came news that The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and several other unions intervened in Madigan’s case to argue that employees should be paid their full wages on time, just like in 2007. The court hasn’t ruled yet. Separately, thirteen other unions filed their own case seeking the same thing in the St. Clair County Circuit Court.
The foregoing is fact. Now here’s opinion, but it’s opinion that nobody familiar with Illinois politics should dispute: Lisa Madigan wants chaos and hardship to result from the budget impasse for the purpose of embarrassing the Rauner administration, and she has sacrificed the interests of workers and the state towards that goal.
Plenty of us don’t like public unions and their pensions, but paychecks are different. State employees are showing up for work during the shutdown. They deserve to be paid. Many of them live month-to-month on their paychecks.
In her statement about her court action, Lisa Madigan said she acted to protect those “punished by the governor’s and legislature’s inability to finalize a budget.” Her sanctimony cannot hide her betrayal of the interests of the state and its workers.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.