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Illinois governor launches job website in case of union strike

CHICAGO, Feb 28 (Reuters) - In preparation for a possible strike by Illinois’ largest union of state workers, Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration launched a website on Tuesday encouraging residents to apply for permanent or temporary state jobs.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31 announced last week that 81 percent of its 38,000 members authorized the union’s bargaining committee to call a strike if a new contract cannot be reached with the state.

Union members, who include prison guards, healthcare providers for veterans and the disabled, child welfare investigators, state highway workers and others, have been without a contract since July 2015. Negotiations with the Republican governor’s administration broke off more than a year ago over issues that include overtime pay, salary increases and healthcare premiums paid by employees.

“We genuinely hope AFSCME leadership will choose not to strike against taxpayers and work with us on implementing common-sense proposals like overtime after 40 hours, not 37.5,” Rauner General Counsel Dennis Murashko said in a statement.

“However, we must be prepared to continue government operations and provide services that citizens deserve and expect,” he added.

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said the governor’s contract proposal includes “unreasonable” demands like a 100 percent hike in employee healthcare premiums.

“Instead of trying to intimidate workers with illegal threats, the governor should simply do his job: negotiate with state workers toward a compromise that’s fair to all,” Lindall said.

The website, Working for a Better Illinois, asks residents to supply contact information if they are interested in employment in accounting, clerical work, data processing, public safety, construction, engineering, maintenance and other areas.

“Although individuals would be hired on a temporary basis in response to the strike, the state would then begin taking the steps necessary to fill positions permanently,” the governor’s office said. The strike threat comes as Illinois is limping through a record-setting second consecutive fiscal year without a complete budget due to an ongoing feud between Rauner and Democrats who control the legislature. A six-month budget for fiscal 2017 expired on Dec. 31. (Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Matthew Lewis)