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Local AFSCME workers call for contract talks as Illinois preps for replacements

ROCK ISLAND -

Nearly a week after Illinois state employees voted to authorize a strike, members of AFSCME Local 2615 are calling for a return to the bargaining table.

"I can guarantee you that there isn't a single one of my coworkers who want to go on strike," said Amanda Cunningham, a caseworker with the Department of Human Services, on March 1, 2017.

While union leadership charts its next step on Thursday in Champaign, the Rauner Administration is preparing for the worst.

The governor's office is unveiling a jobs portal to recruit replacements if some 38,000 AFSCME employees walk off their jobs.

It's at: https://statejobs.illinois.gov

"We are prepared if a strike were to occur," Gov. Bruce Rauner said.  "We will keep essential government services running."

AFSCME's strike authorization could eventually sideline nearly 300 local workers in seven Illinois counties near the Quad Cities.

"The community without our services is a scary place," Cunningham continued.  "A lot of disabled and older people need these services to live.  It becomes a matter of life and death."

Workers say the contract impasse is over more than a pay freeze, 40-hour week and insurance concessions. They worry most about a cost-cutting philosophy to privatize their jobs.

"He could walk in on Monday morning and say, 'Your job is being done by the Bruce Rauner Corporation,'" said Local 2615 President Carlene Erno. "We believe it's a chess game with the citizens of Illinois."

However all this plays out, it's already costing a cash-strapped state.

"Every day that we don't implement our new contract together, it's costing Illinois taxpayers roughly $2.5 million," said Gov. Rauner.

While both sides want to avoid a strike, local workers really want more talks.

"I say it's time to come to the table and negotiate with us," Erno said.

"We want to go to the table," Cunningham concluded.  "We ask that he do the same."