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Capitol Briefs: IDOT workers authorize strike; attorney general warns of AI election scams

Illustration by Capitol News Illinois

Several Teamsters unions representing thousands of state highway workers have authorized strikes as contract negotiations between them and the state’s Department of Transportation continue.

The eight local unions that authorized strikes are spread throughout Illinois and represent around 3,800 employees, including drivers, highway maintainers and bridge tenders.

Negotiations between the state and the unions have lasted more than seven months.

“The major issue has been health insurance,” Pasquale Gianni, a spokesperson for the umbrella organization Teamsters Joint Council 25, told Capitol News Illinois.

Currently, the union members receive benefits through a union-managed plan, but Gianni said the state has been pushing to move the union members to the state’s health care plan. This is contentious, he said, because it would come with higher costs and fewer benefits.

A strike can still be avoided despite the authorization votes, which are one part of what is usually a multi-step process leading up to a work stoppage. None of the eight locals have announced plans to actually strike, but Gianni said they are nearing a “breaking point” with several locals already requiring third-party mediators.

“Our members have sent a loud and clear message,” Gianni said. “They’re ready and willing.”

In a statement to Capitol News Illinois, IDOT representatives said the safety of travelers is their “top priority”

“The department values its hard-working staff and employees and looks forward to continuing a successful partnership with all of its collective bargaining units now and into the future,” according to the statement.

Read more: AFSCME ratifies new 4-year contract with the state

Gov. JB Pritzker's office responded to the situation similarly, while also noting that the state has successfully reached agreements with several other unions over the past several months, including with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which covers 30,000 state workers after a six-month negotiating process.

“The Governor is committed to ensuring a fair agreement for everyone involved, like those that have already been reached with other unions,” Pritzker spokesperson Alex Gough said in a statement.

Attorney general warns of AI election scams

Early voting for Illinois’ March 19 primary began on Thursday, amid new warnings of scams that experts say are becoming more sophisticated with the use of artificial intelligence.

The Illinois attorney general’s office recently sent a warning letter to a company accused of targeting New Hampshire voters with misinformation ahead of that state’s Jan. 23 primary.

Life Corporation is accused of using AI to generate robocalls with President Joe Biden’s voice to discourage voters from participating in the primary. In the warning, Kwame Raoul joined with attorneys general across the country to urge the company to stop – or face penalties for violating federal and state laws.

Raoul is a member of the bipartisan Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force, whose investigation into Life Corp found the company also spoofed calls – making them appear as though they were from legitimate political officials – and gave potential voters wrong information about the election and voting.

The attorney general’s office operates several consumer fraud hotlines, as well as a website, for people who believe they’ve been a victim of a scam or other fraud. The hotlines can be reached at: 1-800-386-5438 (Chicago); 1-866-310-8398 (Español); 1-800-243-0618 (Springfield); 1-800-243-0607 (Carbondale).

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Andrew Adams joined Capitol News Illinois in February 2023 as a state government and data reporter.
Jennifer Fuller joined Capitol News Illinois in July 2023 as the organization’s broadcast director. She will oversee the launch and operations of CNI’s new broadcast division.