Illinois Public Media News
It has been more than a month since the old contract between the Danville school district and its employees union expired --- and more than two months since negotiators for the two sides sat down at the bargaining table. Now, the school board has filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board --- accusing it of refusing to come to the bargaining table.
Illinois Gears Up for Start of Video Gambling
Chino's Pizzeria in suburban Chicago is among the first Illinois locations to get video poker machines.
Restaurant owners had several months to prepare for the new restriction. The smoking ban become law in March, but it didn't go until affect until the start of this month.
Businesses covered by the policy must remove all ashtrays and post signs stating that smoking is prohibited within 8 feet of an entrance.
Liz Hammer works as a waitress at Benjamin's Restaurant in Covington, and she said business has not been hurt by the ban.
"We've only had two people that have even asked us if we still have smoking," Hammer said. "You know, like most people already know it, and the ones that have we just told them that it's gone statewide and we've had absolutely no problems."
Susan Smith runs the Duck's Diner in West Lebanon. She said she began preparing for the transition about three months ago by creating smoking and non-smoking dining areas.
"I lost, I think, two customers when I separated the two because there were two customers who didn't want to go to back, but in turn, I gained customers because I have a non-smoking dining room," Smith said.
Now, Smith said she hasn't seen a drop in business since the smoking ban started up.
Unlike Illinois where you can't smoke in a public place, in Indiana smoking is still allowed at bars, casinos, horse-racing facilities, retail tobacco shops and private clubs.
Backers of the measure say they want to see the law become more restrictive, while critics argue that it should be up to business owners to allow smoking.
Champaign County Restaurants Fail Inspections
(Reported by Pam G. Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)
Public health officials continue to give failing scores to restaurants in Champaign County each month, but after more than three years of study they still have not decided how to make those inspections routinely public.
Clinic, Small Business Group, Respond to ACA Ruling
A spokesman for a Champaign clinic helping those with little to no insurance sees Thursday's ruling on the Affordable Care Act as a positive, helping 30-to-50 million people across the country.
But Ben Mueller says Avicenna Community Health Center will still likely see dozens of patients who are undocumented immigrants.
Mueller serves as director of outreach and partnerships for the facility managed by the Central Illinois Mosque. He expects free clinics and hospital emergency rooms to stay in demand until more federal efforts to help immigrants are in place.
Mueller notes President Barack Obama is developing ways to address that, citing the recent order that young people from overseas without criminal records would be exempt from deportation.
"We're in a political year, and the election could bring a whole set of policies," he said. "It's conceivable in the future that legislation such as the Dream Act would provide a path to citizenship. And there's other implications for immigration reform that may provide some relief for persons who do not have health insurance that are currently covered under the Affordable Care Act."
Mueller says there's a lot hinging on policies tied to the Affordable Care Act. He says Medicaid rolls in Champaign County alone have grown from nearly 24-thousand in 2006, to 33-thousand last year.
Governor Pat Quinn says he expects to expand the Medicaid rolls with the high court's ruling, relying on federal assistance.
The Supreme Court's decision also brings to question how it will impact small businesses.
Steven Banke with the Chicago-based Small Business Advocacy Council favors health care co-ops over the exchanges that most states, Including Illinois, have yet to organize.
Benke, who chairs that group's health care committee, says that idea would bring much-needed competition to the market.
He says the difference between the two is a little complicated. Banke compares a health care exchange to the foundation of a building, while a co-op and its insurance companies, are the tenants.
"It's a type of risk-bearing entity or insurance company if you will," he said. "And it will operate on the exchange alongside of all the carriers. So we will be one of those carriers, if you will, that will show up on the exchange, and people will see us right next to Blue Cross, Aetna, United Health Care, and so forth."
Banke says one of the biggest challenges for him to provide coverage to a small office is that no one program size fits all.
He's hoping the exchange or co-op will allow them to get whatever type of health care they need.
Supporters of Flex-n-Gate Unionization Rally at U of I Campus
A rally protesting labor conditions at Urbana-based Flex-n-Gate --- and supporting a union's effort to organize workers there --- drew about 30 people on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Thursday.
Flex-n-Gate owner and CEO Shahid Khan is a U of I alumnus and benefactor, whose donations paid for a new addition to Huff Hall. Rally organizers gathered outside the Khan Annex to accuse the industrialist of allowing unsafe working conditions at his non-union plants --- including the Flex-n-Gate Guardian West plant in Urbana.
Stephanie Seawell of the Graduate Employees Organization told rally participants holding homemade signs that the U of I plans to give Khan its Alumni Achievement Award at next month's commencement ceremonies.
"This university, the University of Illinois, is going to give an award, a prestigious alumni award, to a man who poisons his employees, doesn't give them the right protective gear, and when they say, 'hey that isn't fair' tries to get them kicked out of the housing that they live in," Seawell said.
Members of union locals and student groups at the rally accuse Flex-n-Gate of forcing workers to handle hexavalent chromium --- widely regarded as a carcinogen --- without property safety equipment. Flex-n-Gate has stated in the past that all its facilities, including Guardian West, meet or surpass federal environmental and safety standards.
The United Auto Workers union is trying to organize at non-union Flex-n-Gate plants, including the one in Urbana. Thursday's rally at the U of I was tied to a UAW rally in New York City.
A growing number of companies across the country have started encouraging employees to stay healthy by offering financial incentives. Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, which is one of the largest employers in the area, is pushing for a healthier workforce through its Charge Rewards Program. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports on how it works.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
The Dow Chemical Co. plans to close its plant in Charleston, Illinois --- one of four facilities being closed down in response to weak demand for the company's products in Europe.
The Charleston plant makes Styrofoam Brant building insulation. Dow spokesperson Rebecca Bentley said its closure is slated for the third quarter of this year. About 30 jobs are being eliminated.
Michigan-based Dow is also closing Styrofoam plants plants in Portugal and Hungary, and another plant in Brazil. In addition, Dow is idling a plant in the Nederlands. In all, about 900 Dow employees around the world will lose their jobs.
Dow Chemical said Monday that the positions will be cut as part of a plan to trim costs by about $250 dollars each year.
Dow Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris said the company made the decision to adapt to a volatile economy, especially in western Europe.
Dow said it will book a first-quarter charge of $350 million for severance packages, asset impairments and other items related to its cost-cutting plan.
Indiana lottery officials are keeping their eye on an Illinois effort to sell lottery tickets online.
The Hoosier Lottery hasn't started formally looking at online sales. But spokesman Al Larsen tells The Journal Gazette (http://bit.ly/GXns7K ) that they'll consider it depending on how the program in Illinois works out.
Illinois began online sales on Sunday of tickets for the multistate Mega Millions game and its state lottery. It's the first state to try an online program.
The system in Illinois sets up a direct deposit account for players with winnings of less than $600. Those who win more than that will receive email notification that they've won. Players will also be able to set up subscriptions for automatic wagers.
As Illlinois adults sip their coffee and unfold their newspapers early Sunday morning, state officials say they can also become some of the first people in the country to buy lottery tickets online.
Illinois will become what lotto officials say is the first state in the U.S. to sell tickets over the Internet when the high-security website goes live around 7 a.m. Sunday. Online players will be able to buy up to $10 worth of Lotto or Mega Millions tickets, and state lawmakers are already considering whether to add Powerball into the mix.
The Illinois Lottery estimates e-ticket sales could net hundreds of thousands of new players, and bring in between $78 million and $118 million in new revenue for the cash-strapped state, half of which would fund capital projects. State lawmakers signed off on the online pilot program in 2009, but implementation had been held up pending legal approval from the U.S. Justice Department, which finally came in December.
In Illinois, where lotto tickets must be bought at a licensed retailer, the plan hasn't been without controversy. Some retail groups have worried that online lottery sales, which they say account for up to 50 percent of revenue at some convenience stores, would take a huge bite out of their in-store business. And anti-gambling advocates complain Internet ticket sales could tempt addicts and underage buyers.
But Illinois Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones said the system is secure, and require would-be gamblers to turn over their names, addresses, Social Security numbers and credit card information before they click "buy."
"But there's also the psychological protection that if you attempt to circumvent our rules by playing underage, or playing from outside the state, and you win, we do a winner validation for any prize over $600," Jones said Friday. "And we won't pay you."
Meanwhile, retailers and convenience store owners have been in talks with Jones and Northstar Lottery Group, the private company that runs the Illinois lotto. The store owners had been pushing for a bump in their five percent commission rate to offset a feared drop in in-person ticket sales, as well as a plan to require that online tickets be purchased exclusively using designated debit cards that could only be bought and recharged at brick-and-mortar stores.
But business groups seem to have quieted down after striking a deal to require that Illinois study the effects of online ticket sales on retailers, and the viability of the debit card idea. That plan will be tacked onto the bill that would add Powerball to the Internet pilot program. The amendment is designed to "lift the opposition that the convenience store owners have had," and will likely be introduced next week, according to the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston.
Retailers say they have a symbiotic relationship with the Illinois Lotto. But they're staying vigilant.
"These concerns are not going away, but at least we now - I shouldn't say 'at least' - we now have - or will have - a mechanism to determine whether our concerns play out," said David Vite, CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which represents 5,100 convenience stores across the state.
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