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State and AFSCME relieved to reach deal

SPRINGFIELD -- Two sides have been battling at the bargaining table for more than a year, but now AFSCME and the state have finalized a new contract.
SPRINGFIELD -- Two sides have been battling at the bargaining table for more than a year, but now AFSCME and the state have finalized a new contract. WCIA-3's Ashley Michels has more.

Both sides are breathing a sigh of relief. The negotiations were getting close to a boiling point.

A strike was right around the corner, but a deal was reached last-minute. Both sides say they couldn't be happier.

"This has been an arduous journey for us."

But, that journey has come to an end. Fifteen months of back-and-forth negotiations without a solution.

"How close were we to a strike? Very! It was imminent."

Bruce Dubre was part of AFSCME's bargaining team. He says it was a tough job.

"Sometimes it can be like watching paint dry. It's tedious. It's intense."

The union was pushing for better pay, but the state argued it didn't have the money. It's a valid argument from both sides which left 35,000 jobs hanging in the balance.

"That's a lot of peoples' lives, a lot of families depending on what you do."

The new three-year contract gives workers about 1.5% increase each year, plus, they'll get the cancelled pay raises from two years ago. In return, workers will pay more for their healthcare, saving the state about $900 million.

"We really didn't make any progress, but we didn't really lose any ground either. We were able to hold status quo and, in this time, we think that's good."

A small victory these workers say feels more like winning the world.

"We fought hard and it was a very emotional, difficult time for us, but we hung together. We improved our organization as a union and we came through a difficult fight together and it has made us stronger."

Governor Quinn calls this deal the "best contract for taxpayers in the state's history." Not only does it save close to $1 billion, it also includes some of the smallest cost-of-living adjustments Illinois has ever seen.
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