Politically connected former state employees sue to get jobs back

Illinois lawmakers begin returning to Springfield soon. The legislative session begins on Tuesday, January 23, 2018/

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) – A group of politically connected state employees are suing Gov. Bruce Rauner to get their jobs back after the governor had them fired.

The eight employees were identified by an Executive Inspector General’s report as political patronage hires from the Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn administrations. Rauner fired them and others in 2017 in a push to end the practice at the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The employees in question had transferred from politically sensitive “staff assistant” jobs, called Rutan-exempt, to positions within IDOT that were part of a collectively bargained contract that had union protections. Rauner argued that the employees shouldn’t have union protections.

The fired employees filed a federal lawsuit against Rauner and IDOT, claiming the termination infringed on their First Amendment rights of free speech.

Springfield attorney Don Craven, who is representing the former employees in court, said the governor acknowledged that they were fired for their political connections.

“When [the employees] were moved from the Division of Traffic Safety, the department didn’t rewrite their job descriptions and they used that pretense as a means to fire these employees,” he said. “But the governor later said in a response to an OEIG report that they were terminated because they were hired by a previous governor.”

When Rauner asked a judge in May 2017 for the authority to fire these employees, experts said it put the union representing them in a sticky situation. On one hand, the union was defending members from termination. On the other hand, the union was protecting political hires in positions that could otherwise go to legacy union workers that may have had more seniority, thus been entitled to the jobs under union rules.

The former employees are seeking reinstatement, back-pay, and seniority positions as if they were never fired, Craven said. Seniority would offer more perks in the union jobs and leverage over other state employees that may have been working since their firing, pushing them “down the list” in seniority.

Rauner’s office wasn’t immediately available to comment Tuesday, but representatives have said they’re working with the Executive Inspector General’s office to clean up the corrupt system left by previous governors.