Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 03, 2011

Healthcare Providers Explore Possible Merger

The parent organization of Provena hospitals in Urbana and Danville is exploring a merger with another Catholic hospital system.

In a joint release, Mokena-based Provena Health and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care say they have signed a non-binding Letter of Intent to look into combing their organizations.

In the release, Provena Health President and CEO Guy Wiebking said that a merger would "leverage the benefits" of their health care services under the federal health care reform law. Resurrection President and CEO Sandra Bruce said their common heritage as Catholic healthcare organizations could be a foundation for improved care in the communities they serve.

Provena Health and Resurrection Health Care operate six hospitals each, and dozens of other facilities, including clinics, nursing homes and home health agencies. Most are in Illinois. Their joint release states that combined, the two organizations would have a medical staff of nearly 5-thousand physicians and over 22,000 other employees.

Categories: Business, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 28, 2011

Postal Service to Conduct Consolidation Study of Champaign Facility

Post offices across the country are facing cuts to make up for an $8.5 billion loss in revenue, and Champaign is no exception.

The U.S. Postal Service has experienced a 20 percent decline in mail volume since 2007, which it attributes to an uptick in e-mails and online payments. It plans to start a three-month review, known as an Area Mail Processing (AMP) study, looking at operations at the Champaign Processing and Distribution Facility on North Mattis Avenue. Postal Service spokesman José Aguilar said a decision will be made in a few months on whether to move the facility's stamp cancellation services to Springfield and Bloomington.

"Right now we're looking at every operation we can to save on fuel, save on work hours, set ourselves up, so that the machinery is running at its optimal capacity," Aguilar said.

The post office employs 205 people, and Aguilar said there is a possibility that a portion of those employees could be re-located or lose their jobs. However, he noted that there are several vacant positions at the Champaign facility, and he said there could be opportunities for displaced workers to fill those jobs. After the review is complete, the U.S. Postal Service will gather input from employees and customers before making a decision.

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2011

Service Workers at the University of Illinois Vote to Authorize Strike

A union representing 800 University of Illinois service employees voted with overwhelming support Thursday to give its members the right to walk off the job.

Contract negotiations between the Service Employees International Union Local 73 and the U of I have gone on for six months. The union is asking for new contracts that include better pay and employee benefits for campus building and food service workers.

Union organizer Ricky Baldwin said the U of I has proposed salary cuts and pay freezes for the workers, which the union has rejected. The university is currently waiting on more than $400 million in state payments. Baldwin said he understand that the U of I is going through some tough economic challenges, but he said union workers are still entitled to better pay and employee benefits.

"We understand that the economy is not good, the budget is not good, but we also know the university has a lot of money," Baldwin said.

Baldwin cites a 37.5 percent salary increase for U of I President Michael Hogan over what former university President B. Joseph White was earning. He also points to the university paying outside consultants $1.7 million to train administrators to 'Plan to Plan', and Board of Trustees giving the green light to raising the U of I's overall operating budget by 3.9 percent.

"They're giving top administrators raises," Baldwin said. "They can afford to give us 30-to-40 cents an hour. It won't break the bank."

Baldwin said workers could walk off the job within a few months if a deal is not reached.

Meanwhile, U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said any discussion of a strike is premature and counterproductive.

"The University remains confident that the parties will be able to reach an agreement through good faith negotiations," Kaler said.

The two sides will return to the bargaining table Friday at 9 a.m. at the Florida Avenue Residence Halls. An hour before the meeting, union workers will be picketing.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 25, 2011

Illini Union Bookstore Begins Selling Apparel to Support Human Rights

The Illini Union Bookstore in Champaign recently unveiled a new apparel line from a company pushing to end poverty in Central America.

South Carolina-based Knights Apparel Inc. runs Alta Gracia, a manufacturing plant in the Dominican Republic. The company employs about 120 people at the factory, and pays each of them $2.83/hour, which exceeds the country's prevailing wage of $0.84/hour. In addition to this salary increase, the company has allowed the workers to form a union.

The non-profit group Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) said the company's salary boost is just enough to adequately feed and shelter a family. In a statement, the WRC said it regularly monitors the facility to make sure the building is up to code and workers are treated well.

"Formal monitoring activities - worker interviews, meetings with management, meetings with union leaders, factory inspections, and review of factory records - all take place at least monthly and in most cases weekly," WRC spokeswoman Theresa Haas said. "Less formal communications with workers and managers occur on a daily basis."

President and CEO of Knights Apparel Joe Bozich said the company makes less because its paying higher salaries, but Bozich noted that the Alta Gracia clothes are sold to consumers at prices that are comparable to other well known brands, like Nike and Adidas. Bozich said he believes this is a viable apparel option because of the social value associated with the clothing line.

"There's been a large group of students that have been asking for this," Bozich said. "They have been petitioning for this for a number of years, saying give us a product to buy that meets a higher standards in terms of corporate social responsibility."

Illini Union bookstore manager Brad Bridges began selling the clothes a couple of weeks ago. Bridges said he would consider dropping partnerships with other clothing companies if there is a large demand for the Alta Gracia apparel.

"Human rights are a big issue with a lot of our students, and we want to provide products that come from a fair wage facility," Bridges said. "I'd like for more companies out there to offer an alternative, so we don't have just one product line from one company"

The factory's clothing is currently sold on more than 200 college campuses.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 20, 2011

Mitsubishi Plans New Model for Ill. Plant

Mitsubishi Motors North America plans to produce a new model at its plant in Normal, Ill., extending the life of the facility just a month after employees agreed to lower wages the company said were needed to keep it open.

Mitsubishi announced the plans as part of new, global business plan aimed at revitalizing the troubled Japanese automaker.

"One of the main pillars of this (plan) is a transition from region-specific models with all of the specifics that entails - producing for a single market, single group of consumers, a single economy - to more global models that are produced for multiple markets," Mitsubishi spokesman Dan Irvin said. "And the new model will be one of those global models."

The company plans to announce what the new model will be in the next few weeks, he said, but all four models now made at the central Illinois plant - the Galant, Eclipse and Spyder and the Endeavor sport utility vehicle - will be phased out.

Employees and local officials at the plant said they're still waiting for details on the new model and to learn whether it will keep all 1,300 plant employees on the job. But the news that one of the largest and highest-paying area employers will stay open was a relief.

"These jobs are very hard to come by and, again, particularly in this economy when most companies of this nature are just hoping to sustain their current employment levels," city manager Mark Peterson said. "These would be, I hate to say impossible, but almost impossible to replace."

The United Auto Workers said Mitsubishi's announcement was a just reward for tough pay concessions its members had little choice but to accept.

"Considering the economy, the state of the economy right now, I think the decision was pretty clear for a majority of the members," UAW local President Ralph Timan said. "It was a tough decision, and it came with sacrifices."

Two-thirds of the union's almost 1,100 members at the plant voted last month to cut a reported $1.67 an hour from their wages after the company said it needed the concessions to remain competitive.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said at the time that it was talking with Mitsubishi about possible incentives. The agency and company continue to talk but so far no tax breaks or other incentives have been provided spokesman Mike Claffey said.

Like the auto industry in general, Mitsubishi North America has struggled with slow sales. The company's U.S. market share for 2009 was just over one half of one percent - the lowest level since 1985, according to WardsAuto.com, a web site that tracks auto industry data.

The company's new business plan, which it calls Jump 2013, is aimed at producing more vehicles to sell in emerging markets such as China and Brazil. The goal, according to a company release, is to raise sales to 1.37 million vehicles in 2013 from the roughly 1 million it expects it will sell by the end of the current fiscal year in March.

The Normal plant started making the Gallant and the other three models it now manufactures in 2005, Irvin said.

"They've been very good to us for a very long time," he said.

The plant at one point employed far more workers, but 1,200 were laid off in 2004 as part of what Mitsubishi said at the time was its last chance for survival. Those layoffs have been followed by other wage and benefit concessions.

Peterson said Thursday that he's anxiously waiting for details about what the company's new model will mean for job numbers at the 22-year-old plant.

"The questions is: Now that's one model - is that going to sustain all 1,100 existing jobs, and could it mean more out there?" he said.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 20, 2011

Mitsubishi’s Normal Auto Plant to Switch to New Model

Mitsubishi is announcing major changes in production that effect its auto assembly plant in Normal.

The Japanese-based automaker says, as part of its new business plan, workers at the Normal plant will begin producing a new model vehicle later this year, while production of current models will be phased out. The company is shifting its production philosophy away from a regional to a global approach, and Irvin said the new model made at the Normal plant will be sold worldwide, not just in the U.S.

Mitsubishi spokesman Dan Irvin said the move reaffirms two decades of hard work by employees of the Normal plant.

"And I think we can all really happy and pleased about that and look forward to a bright future," added Irvin.

The announcement comes two months after union workers at Mitsubishi's Normal plant agreed to wage concessions in return for a jump start in production,

Irvin said Mitsubishi will announce details of the new model at an event in Normal in a couple of weeks. He would not say if the plans call for more hiring or an addition of a second shift. He said it will not include production of an electric vehicle, although Mitsubishi's new business plan calls for the launch of eight new electric-powered vehicles.

Some auto industry publications say the new vehicle will be built on the same platform that carries the Outlander crossover and the Lancer sedan--two of the company's highest selling models.According to the new business plan, it will take three years to phase out the Eclipse, Galant and Endeavor crossover and bring the new vehicle on line.

Categories: Business, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 19, 2011

Jimmy John’s Founder Considers Moving Corp. HQ out of Illinois

The founder of Jimmy John's sandwich shops says he's considering moving his company's headquarters from Champaign to Florida because of Illinois' new tax increase.

Jimmy John Liautaud told the News-Gazette on Tuesday that he's gathering information on a potential move and will ask the company's board to decide.

Liautaud said he could absorb the increased costs but doesn't believe he should have to.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the income tax increase last week to help address billions of dollars in state budget shortfalls. And during a visit to the University of Illinois Urbana campus Wednesday, the governor said he hoped Liataud would reconsider any move out of the state. Quinn said a tax increase was necessary to get Illinois out of a "fiscal emergency".

"I inherited a budget deficit of billions and billions of dollars when I became governor," Quinn said. "I was direct right from the beginning. I said we needed to use the income tax to pay our bills"

With Quinn's signing of tax hike legislation last week, Illinois' corporate income tax rate increased from 4.8 to 7.0 percent. Quinn says that's still one of the lower corporate tax rates in the Midwest. But Florida, where Liautaud is considering a move for his company, has a even lower corporate income tax rate --- a flat 5.5 percent.

Jimmy John's headquarters employs 100 people in Champaign. The privately held chain has more than 1,000 sandwich shops around the country.

Liautaud said he recently moved his family to Florida from Champaign.

(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2011

Durbin: AZ Shootings Could Prompt Action on Mental Health, Gun Laws

Illinois' senior Senator, Dick Durbin, says concrete action can come out of the recent shootings at a congressional event in Tucson Arizona. The attack that killed six people and critically injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz) has led to a flurry of proposals in reaction, from gun control measures to a clampdown on incivility in politics. In an interview with Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers, Durbin said he thinks some of those ideas can progress beyond the talking stage.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2011

Local Group Seeks Community Kitchen for C-U

Before his death last year, Urbana chocolate-maker Daniel Schreiber proposed a community kitchen that could be shared by small-scale local food producers like him. Now, an organization is seeking community input as they try to make Schreiber's dream a reality.

Lawrence Mate is one of the organizers of the Flatlander Fund --- named after Schreiber's own brand of chocolate. He said they hope to open a commercial-grade kitchen that could be rented by local entrepreneurs --- including Mate himself. Mate operates This Little Piggy, a small producer of meat products such as bacon and sausage. Mate said because he works out of his home kitchen, his operation remains a non-profit private club.

"I've had any number of places in town where they have a deli counter, who have said they would love to carry the stuff I'm making," Mate said. "But in order for them to retail it, it's got to be coming out of a kitchen certified by the Public Health District."

Mate cites the dilemma in 2009 of some local bakers who sold goods at the Urbana Farmers Market, only to discover that their home-baked goods violated public health regulations requiring a commercial kitchen. He said a shared-use community kitchen could provide a certified facility for small food-related businesses.

Laura Huth, another volunteer with the Flatlander Fund, said a community kitchen could also serve a wider public, with classes on food preparation, nutrition and related topics.

"So in addition to providing a spark for artists - food artists, really - in our community to do what they love to do, there's the educational component, the hands-on demonstrations and the business development classes," Huth said.

The Flatlander Fund launched an online survey Monday night to measure public interest in a community kitchen. Huth said that as of mid-afternoon Tuesday, they had received about 70 responses. The survey is open until February 13 on the Flatlander Fund's website.

Shared-use kitchens exist in other communities. In Danville, the Cook's Workshop opened late last year, offering kitchen and dining room space for rent, as well as cooking workshops and demonstrations.

Categories: Business
Tags: business

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 13, 2011

Ill. Tax Increases: The Beginning of an Exodus, or Just Another Annoyance?

A University of Illinois economist doesn't predict a long line of businesses leaving the state because of higher income taxes, but he said Illinois remains an uncertain place for commerce and industry.

Daniel Merriman of the Illinois Institute of government and Public Affairs said neighboring states had already begun to lure away employers concerned about Illinois' uncertain deficit situation even before lawmakers passed a 67 percent hike in personal income taxes this week. Governor Pat Quinn signed the increase into law Thursday afternoon.

Merriman said the tax increase will be one more drawback, but it still won't be enough to address all the red ink in Springfield.

"A combination of tax increases, expenditure reductions and growth is necessary to eliminate it," Merriman said. "The taxes actually do help reduce the deficit. It's just that it hasn't done enough to fully eliminate it, and they're still going to have to have expenditure reductions along the way."

Merriman said lawmakers still haven't addressed structural problems either, like fixing the underfunded pension system or revamping Medicaid and workers' compensation laws. But he said employers are not as mobile as some would believe - noting that most firms are rooted in the state and serve mainly Illinois customers.

Then there is the question of the region's overall economic health. Merriman said the pressure facing manufacturers in Illinois would face them wherever they relocate.

"A lot of the concern that people have had with the kind of business loss in Illinois has been with manufacturing establishments that have been leaving the entire Midwest, and to some extent they're just leaving the country as a whole," he said. "So it's not clear that Illinois is going to be losing that much to neighboring states. It's that manufacturing just isn't as strong as it used to be.


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