Until now, Gov. Bruce Rauner's battles have been mostly waged within the marble corridors of the Illinois statehouse.

But as lawmakers worked last week to finish up their work in the spring legislative session, warning signs began popping up that the governor's efforts to shake up Springfield could soon spread to every corner of the Land of Lincoln.

Last week, Rich Miller, author of the political blog Capitol Fax, obtained an administration memo titled "Contingency Preparation Assessment." It asks state agencies 10 questions about what they'll need to do in case of a labor strike.

Among the questions is which of the major services performed by that agency would be discontinued and how many temporary workers would be needed if there is a walkout by members of the state's unionized workforce.

The state's contract with its largest public employees' union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, expires June 30, when the state's fiscal year ends.

In more than four decades, there has never been a strike.

But this year is different. Rauner has taken a stridently anti-union posture since taking office in January. He's called for formation of local right-to-work zones that would allow communities to market themselves as being more friendly to business because of the absence of unions.

He wants changes to prevailing wage laws on local government and school construction projects that labor unions say would result in massive cuts in wages for highly skilled trades workers.

Earlier this month, the governor said change is hard and predicted talks would be tough.

"But," he said, "I want everybody who works in government to have a great career. I want them to be well compensated. I want them to have a great retirement. But we need a system that's affordable, and also incentives everybody to save taxpayer money because the tax burden on our citizens is too high already."

He's also said it could take a government shutdown to get the changes he thinks are needed to turn Illinois' fortunes around.

Thus far, Rauner has had no luck convincing Democrats who control the General Assembly to join him in reshaping state government. The legislative session was a wash-out for Rauner's Turnaround Agenda.

Democrats also are skeptical of the administration's claim that he doesn't want a strike.

"I don't think you can convince me you don't want a strike," state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, told a Rauner lawyer during a hearing last week.

The chief negotiator in the contract talks on behalf of the governor is Joe Hartzler, a former U.S. attorney who led the prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

He's a no-nonsense guy who is charged with trying to convince the union to make some major concessions, including a wage freeze, changes in overtime, seniority and higher health insurance costs.

Just as Rauner is preparing for a strike, AFSCME is concerned about a lockout. One of the governor's heroes is Ronald Reagan, who famously locked out the nation's air traffic controllers in order to bust the union.

As the spring session was rolling to an end last week, AFSCME was working to convince the House and Senate to approve legislation that would bar them from striking or being locked out.

If a strike or a lockout occurs, you won't see prison guards and state police involved. They can't strike, for obvious reasons.

But there still could be thousands of state workers on the picket line in the heat of the summer.

State government already is messed up. A strike or lockout of the 38,000 AFSCME workers would mean major upheaval at facilities that treat the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

It could mean public health workers wouldn't be around to fight infectious disease breakouts. Imagine what it would be like for a temporary employee to get hired to run the dispatching operation for the state police. Who would help people sign up for food stamps and unemployment?

Could temp workers suddenly be tasked with overseeing orphans and juvenile offenders?

So far, the governor's rhetoric has been just that. But, come July 1, it could turn into a reality Illinoisans have not witnessed before.

Follow Kurt Erickson on Twitter @Illinois_Stage


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