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SPRINGFIELD —Attorneys for AFSCME and the Rauner administration squared off in court Wednesday over whether the two sides have reached impasse in contract talks that got underway more than three years ago.

The administration, armed with a decision from the Illinois Labor Relations Board, said the two sides have reached an impasse in the talks over the issue of outsourcing work.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said the ILRB was wrong to say an impasse exists for the entire contract because of a single issue. The union said it was and is willing to continue bargaining over any number of issues including insurance costs and wage issues.

A ruling that the two sides have reached an impasse would open the door for the Rauner administration to impose its contract terms on the union. However, regardless of which side wins at the appellate court, it is assumed a final appeal will be made to the state Supreme Court.

"The labor board (impasse) decision was wrongly decided on a single issue," said Stephen Yokich, representing AFSCME. "Basically, the board got it all wrong."

"You're being asked by AFSCME to effectively read impasse out of the law," said Tom Bradley, an attorney representing the administration.

He said a ruling in AFSCME's favor would essentially allow public employee unions to endlessly stretch out bargaining on a new contract.

Although an impasse can be reached in negotiations over a single issue, Yokich said there are procedures that must be followed to do that, and they weren't followed in this case. He said there was no evidence either the union or the state said the issue of subcontracting was the only thing preventing a settlement.

An administrative law judge who heard months of testimony about the conduct of contract negotiations also recommended to the ILRB a decision on an impasse be based on a number of factors, not just one.

Bradley said that during negotiations AFSCME also said it would never agree to a merit compensation system, one of the things the administration has insisted be part of a new contract. He also said that at the time the state stopped negotiations, the two sides were still $3 billion apart despite 67 bargaining sessions.

However, Justice Craig DeArmond said both sides have been in a similar position in the past following extended negotiations and still reached an agreement.

There is no deadline for the Fourth District Appellate Court to rule in the case.

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