Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
The eldest son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said Monday if his father had not been killed more than four decades ago, the civil rights icon would be fighting alongside workers rallying to protect collective bargaining rights.
Martin Luther King III joined about 1,000 marchers in Atlanta and thousands more across the country to support workers' rights on the anniversary of his father's assassination. King was in Memphis, Tenn., supporting a black municipal sanitation workers strike April 4, 1968, when he was shot to death on a hotel balcony.
King III laid a wreath at his parents' crypt before leading a group of clergy, labor and civil rights activists through downtown to the steps of the Georgia Capitol. Marchers held signs that read, "Stop the war on workers" and "Unions make us strong," and sang "This Little Light of Mine."
King III told the crowd at the statehouse that his father lost his life in the struggle for workers' dignity and democracy for all Americans, comparing the struggle to today's battle over collective bargaining rights in states including Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio.
"If he were with us today, he would be at the forefront of this struggle to retain the rights of workers," King III said to the cheering crowd. "I would've hoped we would be in a different place in this nation 43 years after his death. Something has gone awry in America."
The rallies were part of a coordinated strategy by labor leaders to ride the momentum of pro-union demonstrations and national polls showing most Americans support collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other GOP leaders have fought to reduce or strip those benefits.
Walker has argued that collective bargaining is a budget issue. He signed into law a bill the strips nearly all collective bargaining benefits from most public workers, arguing the move will give local governments flexibility in making budget cuts needed to close the state's $3.6 billion deficit.
Labor unions want to frame the debate as a civil rights issue, which could draw sympathy to public workers being blamed for busting state budgets with generous pensions. Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, was in Atlanta for the "We Are One" campaign, which she said included teach-ins and vigils in dozens of cities nationwide. Holt Baker said the two movements are linked and that economic justice was King's dream.
"We need to thank these governors," she said. "They did for us what we haven't been able to do for ourselves for a long time. They have woken us up. They say it's about balancing budgets, but we know it's about union busting."
At a rally in Cleveland, about 300 union supporters denounced Ohio Gov. John Kasich and workers vowed to block the bill he signed last week that bans public worker strikes, eliminates binding arbitration and restricts bargaining for 350,000 public employees. U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, said Republicans are trying to silence workers at the bargaining table and told the crowd that Republican lawmakers are counting on us quitting.
"We pay respect to the dignity of your work," she said. "We thank you. We can't quit."
In downtown Louisville, Ky., about 200 people gathered at a rally. Musicians, including the Grammy-nominated Nappy Roots, played to their home crowd in a show of support, and a red, white and blue banner read "The Right to Bargain - Kentucky's Public Employees Deserve It - Now."
"The 9-to-5 of blue collar workers, we really are from that era," said Nappy Roots' Skinny DeVille, whose mom still works at the Louisville GE plant.
In Tennessee, groups against bills that would curtail or cut workers' rights stood silently as legislators walked into the House and Senate chambers.
On the University of Illinois campus, several different union groups showed up for a rally Monday in front of the Alma Mater statue. Peter Campbell with the U of I's Graduate Employees Organization praised King for teaching people about the importance of social and economic justice.
"King said if you support unions, you also support racial justice," Campbell said. "If you support racial justice, you support rights of workers. If you support women's rights, you support rights for everybody. So, we're all necessarily in this together."
Other union events are planned in the Champaign-Urbana area this week with a larger union rally planned in Chicago on April 9th.
(AP Photo/David Goldman)
A group hoping to open a shared-use kitchen and business incubator in Champaign-Urbana is making a specific pitch to the Hispanic community.
The Flatlander Community Kitchen project is holding a meeting aimed at Spanish-speaking residents Wednesday, April 6, at the Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park in Champaign.
Flatlander volunteer Laura Huth says the meeting is part of their effort to reach potential entrepreneurs who would benefit from access to a certified commercial kitchen.
"One of our volunteers happens to be a fluent Spanish-speaker -- she's bilingual -- and she stepped up and said, 'I'd like to help and this is what I can do," Huth said. "And so we decided to start with the Spanish-speaking session, and then we're going to add on other different language sessions moving forward."
Huth says they are publicizing the meeting through flyers and word-of-mouth. She says owners of two area Mexican restaurant chains -- El Toro and La Bamba -- have shown a lot of interest in the project.
"They see this as a huge opportunity for their ethnic community to take some of their business ideas that currently aren't really being realized, and being able to provide job opportunities for people in the community," Huth said.
The Flatlander Community Kitchen is the brainchild of local chocolate-maker Daniel Schreiber, who died last year. The project is still in the planning stages, as its organizers seek out backers, potential users, and a site for the kitchen. Huth says they hope the opening of a non-profit community kitchen will encourage more locally-produced goods in Champaign-Urbana and create jobs.
Flatlander's Spanish-language meeting is set to begin at 7:00 Wednesday night, in the Schoolhouse facility just inside the Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park, 1600 North Market Street in Champaign.
Gov. Pat Quinn is getting ready to propose changes to the workers' compensation system in Illinois.
The Chicago Democrat on Friday said both the law and the Workers' Compensation Commission must be revamped. He says changes to the law would make the system more affordable for businesses while remaining fair to workers.
Quinn's comments come amid a federal investigation into possible workers' compensation abuses at state agencies and in the actions of arbitrators. The Associated Press has obtained five subpoenas looking for claims data.
Quinn says he's talking to lawmakers and wants Republicans and Democrats to work together on an overhaul.
The CEO of Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. now says a letter he wrote to Gov. Pat Quinn complaining about the state's business climate was never intended as a threat to move the Fortune 500 manufacturer out of Illinois.
Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman said Wednesday in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington that news reports about the letter sensationalized his statements about the state's business climate.
According to a copy of the speech, Oberhelman said he'd like to invest further in Illinois. But he said Illinois lawmakers have created an unfriendly business environment.
Lee Enterprises' Springfield bureau reports Oberhlman says in the letter that the company had been courted by other states and while he'd like to stay he also had to "do what's right" for the company.
The Illinois House wants to lift the ban on smoking at riverboat casinos that border states where smoking is allowed.
The bill passed 62-52 Tuesday. It now goes to the Senate.
Rep. Daniel Burke said he sponsored the measure because Illinois is losing business to states that allow smoking at casinos. The Chicago Democrat claims casinos have lost $800 million since 2008 because gamblers go to Iowa, Indiana or Missouri casinos.
Burke says casinos have improved air filtration systems, reducing the health concerns from smoking.
Supporters of the smoking ban say it's unfair to subject gamblers and casino employees to second-hand smoke.
Traffic is moving again along Green Street between Wright and 6th Streets in Champaign's Campustown after crews tore down the 2nd floor and attic of a building damaged by a fire.
The building houses Mia Za's Cafe, Zorba's restaurant, and Pitaya clothing boutique. Officials say the fire started above the ceiling of Mia Za's. At the height of the blaze, fire personnel from Urbana and Champaign used 11 fire engines, four ladder trucks and two squads to fight the blaze.
Champaign city planner T.J. Blakeman says owners of affected businesses surveyed the damage over the weekend, and he says it could be a while before they figure out what they will do next.
"I really hope that they're able to find a space and re-open in campus," Blakeman said. "The students really want that."
Blakeman says nearby businesses did not suffer major damage since the fire was contained to the one building. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
St. Louis-based beer giant Anheuser-Busch (BUD) is buying Chicago-based Goose Island brewery for $38.8 million.
Anheuser-Busch says the deal, announced Monday, will help Goose Island meet growing demand for Honkers Ale and its other brands. Anheuser-Busch has distributed Goose Island beers since 2006.
Goose Island founder and president John Hall will stay as chief executive officer. He says the company couldn't brew some of its specialty beers fast enough to keep up with demand - and the deal with Anheuser-Busch will help with that.
"Chicago is going to continue to be our principle market," he said. "We will probably expand into some new markets, but we're not going to do any of those things until we supply the markets we're in right now."
Hall said Goose Island's roughly 120 employees will still operate in Chicago. Hall also said the beers will remain the same - and that he wouldn't have agreed to the deal if it involved changing the recipes.
Chicago's two Goose Island brew pubs are not part of the deal; they will continue operating. The deal needs regulators' approval and is expected to close in the second quarter this year.
Anheuser-Busch is buying 58% of Fulton Street Brewery, Goose Island's legal name, for $22.5 million and the remaining 42% from Portland, Ore.-based Craft Brewers Alliance for $16.3 million.
(Photo courtesy of Goose Island)
Illinois' junior U.S. Senator is worried about the state's business climate after state lawmakers approved increases in both corporate and income taxes.
In a visit to Champaign Friday, Mark Kirk touted his Small Business Bill of Rights. He says the legislation would help reverse the trend of other Governors trying to lure business away from Illinois.
The Senator says one portion of the measure would exempt small employers from federal taxes for 10 years if they commit to investing in vacant commercial property.
"Because nothing was happening there (vacant properties) anyway," Kirk said. "And we want to make central towns and cities exciting to invest in. Or for new innovators, a fast lane at the patent office. Because we know that small innovates 8-times faster per capita than big business."
The portion of Kirk's bill that expedites the federal patent approval process passed the Senate earlier this month. That provision assists business owners with patent filing issues.
Other parts of the legislation seek to lower business health care costs by allowing interstate competition for insurers, and to cut energy costs by promoting the use of hybrid vehicles and more efficient practices.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The latest government data suggest some states are recovering much faster than others from the recession, including a few that were hit the hardest.
U.S. companies have added jobs for 12 straight months, but the gains have been uneven.
The U.S. Labor Department says the unemployment rate dropped in 27 states in February, including Illinois. It rose in seven states and stayed the same in 16. Last week, the Illinois Department of Employment Security announced the state's jobless rate had fallen to 8.9 percent for Februrary. That's the first time since February 2009 that the unemployment rate has been below nine percent - and the 13th consecutive monthly decline in unemployment rolls.
Job growth in Illinois stands at 1.5 percent, which slightly outpaces the national average of 1.0 percent. The industries posting the biggest job increases in Illinois include Professional and Business Services, Education and Health Services, and Trade, Transporation and Utilities.
Forty-four states have added jobs during the last year, including some that were badly battered during the downturn. Since January 2010, Illinois has added 85,000 jobs, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. California added nearly 200,000 net jobs, and Michigan created a net 71,000 jobs during the last year.
Still, six states reported a net loss in jobs in that time, including a few that weren't considered trouble spots: New Jersey, New Mexico, and Kansas.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
The U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday that it will reduce its workforce with layoffs and offers of buyouts and will close seven district offices from New England to New Mexico to help address record losses.
The reorganization, designed to eliminate 7,500 administrative, executive and postmaster jobs this year, came as a commission that is evaluating the Postal Service's plan to eliminate Saturday delivery concluded that one in four letters would be delayed by not just one but by two days.
The independent Postal Regulatory Commission also said that postal officials underestimated the losses the agency would suffer from handling less mail- and overestimated the cost savings.
Five-day service and a smaller workforce are among the Postal Service's strategies to become solvent after losses of $8.5 billion in fiscal 2010, the result of declining mail volumes. Projected losses for 2011 are $6.4 billion.
Once buyout decisions aimed at administrative staff are final in April, the agency plans to eliminate the jobs of thousands of postmasters and supervisors, many through layoffs, officials said.
"Nobody did anything wrong, but we're a victim of the economy and past legislation," said Anthony Vegliante, the Postal Service's chief human resources officer and executive vice president. The cuts are expected to save $750 million a year.
District offices that handle managerial work will close in Columbus, Ohio; Albuquerque, N.M.; Billings, Mont.; Macon, Ga.; Providence, R.I.; Troy, Mich., and Carol Stream, Ill., the Postal Service said.
The closures will pave the way for the agency to close up to 2,000 local post offices throughout the next two years, a plan announced in January.
Vegliante said he expects about 3,000 administrators to take the buyouts, which will offer $20,000 to employees over age 50 with at least 20 years of service, or any age with at least 25 years of service. Layoffs will then be used to help reach the 7,500 goal, he said, though he would not commit to a number.
The Postal Service has eliminated 105,000 full-time positions in the last two years, among them clerks, plant workers and mail handlers. Those cuts were made mostly through attrition and early retirements.
The Postal Service announced plans for five-day service in 2009, although Congress, which must approve the change, has showed little interest in pursuing it.
Among the findings of the 211-page opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission:
- Five-day service would delay by two days delivery of 25 percent of first-class and priority mail.
- The Postal Service did not adequately evaluate the effect of five-day service on rural areas.
- While the Postal Service estimated net savings from the reduced service at $3.1 billion, the commission's estimate is closer to $1.7 billion.
- Lost revenue from mail volume declines from the service cuts would be $600 million a year, not the $200 million the Postal Services estimates.
Margaret Cigno, the regulatory commission's chief analyst, said many letters normally delivered on Saturday would not arrive until Tuesday because Saturday mail would no longer be transported and processed over the weekend. "Saturday would not just end delivery, but mail would not go out," she said.
Postal officials said they would continue supporting the plan.
"I'm comfortable that people did their due diligence," Vegliante said, calling five-day service "an inevitable question."
"Whether it's tomorrow or 10 years from now, sooner or later it's got to be dealt with."
(Photo courtesy of Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons)
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