State workers protest in Springfield against proposed hike in health-care costs

By Ashley Wiehle

SPRINGFIELD — More than 4,000 state workers swarmed the streets of Springfield Monday to protest a proposal to hike their health-care costs by an administration that has sought to make such coverage more affordable for state residents.

The 35,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Illinois would be without a contract for the first time if talks, which have been going on for seven months with the administration of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, are not completed by July 1.

AFSCME members would pay $100 million more in health-care costs during a four-year contract under the administration’s proposal, said Marion Murphy, a union bargaining committee member.

“The health-care governor who has made health care affordable and accessible to hundreds of thousands of Illinois citizens is trying to make it unaffordable and inaccessible for tens of thousands of state and university employees and their families,” said Henry Bayer, AFSCME Council 31 executive director.

Bayer told those at the rally on the streets in front of the Capitol, most of them in green T-shirts and many hoisting green and white signs, that the state wants workers to pay 50 percent more for insurance premiums and raise deductibles.

The proposed health-care and pension costs for workers would not be offset by pay increases, meaning salary hikes for union members would be a “big fat zero,” Bayer said.

Kelley Quinn, a budget spokeswoman for Blagojevich, said the administration continues “good-faith negotiations.”

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