It appears the cause of the fire that shut down two restaurants and a clothes store in Champaign's Campustown district will remain undetermined.
City fire department spokeswoman Dena Schumacher says investigators removed a number of items while doing a physical inventory of the building in the 600 block of Green Street, and the specific origin of the fire remained undetermined.
The March 23rd fire started somewhere in the southeast corner of the ceiling of Mia Za's café. The building also houses Zorba's restaurant and Pitaya clothing.
The eastbound lane of Green between Sixth and Wright streets will remain closed through at least next Monday, while crews remove debris resulting from the fire. The adjacent sidewalk will remain closed during that time as well.
The Cherry Orchard Village apartments lie just south of the abandoned Chanute Air Force Base near Rantoul - and like the base itself, Cherry Orchard has seen better days. Now the two landlords who manage the eight-building complex are charged with failing to maintain it - to the detriment of its tenants, mainly migrant worker families. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers has been collaborating with the investigative journalism group CU-Citizen Access. He reports on the legal battle to bring Cherry Orchard up to code.
(English language voice over by Jenn Kloc)
(With additional reporting from Pam Dempsey and A. H. Gorton of CU-CitizenAccess)
The head of Caterpillar says the company intends to stay in Illinois while working with the governor to improve the state's business climate.
CEO Doug Oberhelman met with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn today to discuss a letter he recently sent Quinn. It warned that other states were trying to lure his company away because Illinois increased its income tax rate on corporations and individuals.
The Peoria-based company has more than 23,000 employees in Illinois.
Quinn says he understands Illinois must do more to improve its economy and image. He is seeking to overhaul the workers' compensation system and encourage the greater export of Illinois goods.
Oberhelman has agreed to serve on a council that will try to strengthen the export business.
(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.
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.