Illinois Public Media News
Monday's overnight tax filing deadline brought out two very different messages to Champaign's West Side Park.
About 50 supporters of city's Tea Party decried federal government spending, claiming duplication exists in several areas. Political activist John Bambanek said the fault lies with elected officials in all parties. He said a tax hike passed by Illinois lawmakers won't help, only impacting the amount the state can give to pensions.
"We still have over 4-billion dollars in past due bills, and we're still not paying the University of Illinois on time, our schools on time, and our human services on time," Bambanek said. "And it is a spending problem, not a tax rate problem."
Commodities trader Bill Lawless told the group the U.S. spending patterns reflect that of someone who gets several credit cards while only making the minimum payment. He said the federal government spending needs to be cut by 40-percent just to achieve a balance.
Meanwhile, about 30 members of MoveOn.org rallied against companies that they allege are finding ways around paying the 35-percent corporate tax rate. They handed staff members at the Chase Bank downtown Champaign a large piece of cardboard representing a bill for $2-million. Volunteer Robert Naiman said that marks the difference between the taxes the corporation actually paid, and what it should have paid at the proper rate.
"Obviously, we have nothing against the employees in this bank," he said. "Our beef is with the corporate leadership of JP Morgan Chase. They're making the decisions about hiding the profits overseas so they don't have to pay their fair share of taxes."
The group says corporations like JP Morgan Chase, ExxonMobil and FedEx are hiding tax earnings in so-called offshore 'tax havens.'
And there was a small third rally Monday, a matter of feet from the Tea Party Group. Sam Kaufman with the U of I Law Student Labor Action Coalition said its presence of about 12 students was to show elected officials their support for health care reform, and labor-related measures.
(Photos by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The Service Employees International Union Local 73 has reached an agreement with the University of Illinois over a new contract.
The union represents about 800 food and building service employees on the Urbana campus who threatened to go on strike Monday if an agreement couldn't be reached. But SEIU field organizer Ricky Baldwin said union members voted with overwhelming support over the weekend to approve a contract, which includes about a three percent pay raise.
"I think it's the best contract we could have gotten, and we're proud of that," Baldwin said. "We know we wouldn't have gotten it without the solidarity of our members, and also our campus allies."
The U of I and the union have been negotiating over a new contract since last summer. Workers began regularly picketing in December. In March, a federal mediator was brought in to help facilitate the contract negations.
Baldwin said a major victory in the contract is a provision allowing workers with seniority to be able to choose certain jobs, rather than leaving it up solely to managers.
"We've been trying to get that for about 20 years," he explained.
Baldwin noted that some workers who have had disciplinary problems or who are doing a poor job in the workplace may be ineligible for this right.
During the contract negotiations, SEIU officials accused the University of replacing some union positions with lower-paid workers, mainly students. Baldwin said that issue is not addressed in this latest deal, but he hopes it is included after the contract expires in July 2012.
About 800 food service and building service employees on the Urbana campus may go on strike as early as Monday, April 18.
Members of the Service Employees International Union local 73 are demanding better pay, and urging the University to stop using lower-paid, temporary workers to cover permanent union jobs.
The two sides have been negotiating over a new contract since last June. A federal mediator was brought in last month to help facilitate the discussions.
University of Illinois spokeswoman Robin Kaler said even if workers go on strike, students should not notice any disruptions in service next week.
"We'll have management staff and other staff who will keep the operation going," Kaler said. "The dinning menus will be the same, The hours will be the same. Students will have their trash removed."
Kaler said the University will have its vendors prepare some meals normally done in house.
She also said the University has offered pay raises to union workers, and acknowledged she is confident an agreement will be reached.
SEIU members held a rally Thursday on the Urbana campus. They are expected to vote this weekend to go on strike, according to SEIU officials.
Legislation being lauded for making historic improvements to Illinois' education system passed the Illinois Senate Thursday night with no opposition, and it did so with the full backing of teachers' unions.
With their massive membership and money, teachers unions carry a lot of influence. Yet, not only did they back the package, they made considerable concessions.
No longer will tenured teachers have as much job protection. Teachers will be subject to performance reviews, and evaluations could mean some will lose their jobs. In Chicago, teachers may have to work longer hours, even if the union does not agree.
The Illinois Education Association's President, Ken Swanson, acknowledged the focus was on students. He denies the unions were more willing to give in after watching the clamp down on workers' bargaining rights in states like Wisconsin.
"What this shows is that to have meaningful reform that will work, you have to have the unions at the table," Swanson said. "Here in Illinois what we've shown is you do not need to have Draconian, unwarranted attacks on public employee rights, collected bargaining. You can do this through collective bargaining, you can do this through bringing the parties to the table."
Advocates like Jessica Handy, with the group Stand for Children, laud the changes as significant for students.
"Having a great teacher in the classroom is the most important school-based factor in effecting student outcomes, and this shift to making performance the driving factor in personnel decisions is ultimately a huge win for children," Handy said.
The package came together this week after months of negotiations. Despite having the support of unions, advocates, school administrators, and Senators on both sides of the aisle, it could see changes in the House.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) said that chamber may push for some revisions.
"We hope that any changes that we might decide would be appropriate would not so upset the apple cart that we would end up with nothing," she said.
There's a possibility changes to the package could lead a stakeholder to withdraw support. Under the measure, Chicago Public Schools may prolong their school year and lengthen the school day.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she believes her role on a state panel that sets training guidelines for police and correctional officers could help save a University of Illinois facility with the same purpose.
Prussing was named Tuesday by Governor Pat Quinn to the state's Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. She said a top priority in the post is to find sustainable financing for the U of I's Police Training Institute.
Last fall, a faculty panel suggested the institute close by this December, saying there wasn't justification to spend the $900,000 annually to train officers on campus. Prussing said that created a backlash, and suggests the facility could be maintained in a fashion similar to an insurance fee enacted by the Illinois Fire Service Institute at the U of I.
"Which all makes sense because you train firefighters, and when they can do fire prevention, that affects the insurance industry," Prussing said. "So it all kind of ties together. I think something similar needs to be done for police. Because obviously, police play a vital role in making society livable for everybody."
Last fall, Mahomet House Republican Chapin Rose suggested a surcharge on those convicted of certain crimes could go to towards funding the Institute. He said a bill supporting that idea has generated more talk among area lawmakers this spring. The legislator said he has a long-term vision for the facility.
"If we're going to do PTI and keep it, I want it to be the best darn training academy in the world, " Rose said. "We should have other countries sending their police cadets and their police officers and their police leadership here to be trained."
The U of I is expected to make a formal pitch for sustaining the training center soon. Prussing met Wednesday with U of I Police Chief Barbara O'Connor and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter to discuss options.
When a worker is injured on the job, Illinois has a system in place to determine if, and how, a company should compensate its employee. But businesses say the workers compensation system is out of date and abused. They're campaigning for a major overhaul of the process. They may succeed. At a meeting of local chambers of commerce and independent business owners on Tuesday, April 12 in Springfield, Governor Pat Quinn and leaders in the Illinois General Assembly said changing the status quo is a top tier goal. But as Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky reports, it's a politically dicey task, considering the push backfrom unions, trial lawyers, and doctors.
The head of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees says higher education in the state must do a better job forging relationships with business and political leaders.
Board Chairman Chris Kennedy says in the two years he's been a trustee, the university has begun reaching out more to those in business and government. Kennedy is in charge of Chicago's Merchandise Mart. He says the U of I has to show the impact investments in higher education can make on the economy. He adds colleges and universities in Illinois have failed to successfully convey the message. Kennedy says too few business leaders even know the names of Presidents and trustees at the state's colleges and universities.
"Even if we could name them, we probably haven't received a call or opened an invitation from them to join in building a relationship with someone like Duck Durbin or Mark Kirk," Kennedy said. "These university leaders are not pushing the business leaders to become engaged with federal officials or to try to improve funding for the research institutions in our state."
Kennedy says that lack of coordinated effort has had a devastating effect on the ability to garner a larger share of federal research dollars. He made his remarks at the University' Springfield campus.
A weather forecaster says he may have to live off the money he's been setting aside for a Caribbean vacation. A worker in Washington hopes to polish his resume so he can retire from public service and work in the private sector. An accountant wonders if she can put off her mortgage for a month.
Federal workers like them across the U.S. will be out of work and without a paycheck if the looming government shutdown isn't averted. Some say they will make the best of it, using the spare time to get a few things done. Others are far more fearful of how they'll provide for their families.
The partial shutdown, which could start at midnight Friday, leaves workers with many questions - some serious, others more mundane: How long, if at all, will they be away from their jobs? Who will be deemed "essential" and be told to come to work? Should I cancel the kids' daycare? Will I still be able to afford that pre-planned vacation?
About 800,000 federal government workers would be affected by a shutdown.
The ripple effects stretched far beyond the Washington metro area, where so many federal employees work and live, to places like Chicago, where more than 100 people facing no paychecks protested outside a federal building with signs, "Don't Punish the Public" and "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out."
National parks would close, and the IRS would not process paper tax returns. But the nation's federal prisons would remain open and air traffic controllers would report to work, as would federal inspectors who enforce safety rules.
In Little Rock, Ark., National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Koch said he worries about how a shutdown could affect his family, including his two children. He said he'd still report to work for business as usual - but he wouldn't get a paycheck until the shutdown ended. He's putting more into savings to prepare, he said.
"I was actually saving up for a Caribbean cruise, but that money may actually be used to live on. It's certainly more important to make sure we can get the bills paid and provide for our family," he said.
Others saw opportunity.
John Haines, 64, has worked for the federal government more than 35 years. His duties as deputy director of the office of community renewal at the Department of Housing and Urban Development keep him busy all day long - leaving him little time to prepare for his transition to a new job in the private sector. He said he's been meaning to update his resume for some time.
"I guarantee you if I'm not coming to work Monday morning that I'll have more energy to do the kind of work that I should have done already" to prepare for the future, he said.
Haines wasn't even sure if he could count on a three-day weekend. He was headed to a seminar this weekend in North Carolina and hoped to visit a son there who serves in the National Guard, but he didn't want to miss work Monday if his office was open.
"So I'm not doing any planning beyond the immediate future," he said.
In Salt Lake City, home to about 12,300 federal employees, Leslie Steffs was applying for new hospital positions. The 55-year-old single mother, an administrative assistant assigned to the downtown Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building, said she was concerned about making mortgage payments.
"Some people say we'll just have to tough it out, but I have a family to support. This is no joke," Steffs said.
That was echoed by Justin Castro, a park service worker at the Oklahoma City Bombing National Memorial.
"Not having a check means not paying rent and not paying bills that need to be paid," he said.
A sheriff on the eastern end of Rocky Mountain National Park is encouraging people to still visit. Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said he'll provide emergency services and law enforcement to visitors on the eastern side of the park within his county in the event of a shutdown.
He said merchants in nearby Estes Park whose business would be hurt by a lack of visitors shouldn't be pawns in Congress' budgetary battle.
However, Patrick O'Driscoll, a spokesman at the National Park Service's regional office in suburban Denver, said Smith's department has no jurisdiction and the park will be closed if there's a shutdown.
Limitations would not just affect the states. Aaron Tarver, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, said U.S. citizens will still have consular services if needed but passports would be limited to emergencies. In the Philippines, the U.S. Embassy in Manila would only provide limited and emergency services if a shutdown happened, spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson said.
In Chicago, one of the demonstrators was Julie Sidlo, an Environmental Protection Agency accountant who endured the last government shutdown in the 1990s. This time, she doesn't know how her job would be affected but is preparing for the worst, she said.
"I've sent an email to my mortgage company asking if I can delay payment for the next month, and gotten no response. I don't know if I can file for unemployment," Sidlo said, adding that she's set money aside for several weeks. "I've decided not to make any purchases I don't need to. I don't go to restaurants."
The government continued lurching toward a shutdown even as Congress continued negotiations to avert it and leaders expressed hope they could get a deal done. House Republicans advanced a stopgap measure Thursday that would keep the government running for another week, cut $12 billion in domestic spending and fund the Pentagon for six months. But President Barack Obama threatened to veto the bill even before it passed, and Senate Democrats showed no willingness to allow a vote on it.
Haines, who joined HUD in 1979 and before that worked for the Department of Transportation, said attrition at his workplace had pushed him to more rigorous hours. Though retirement-eligible, he's now considering private sector jobs in economic development and said the threat of a shutdown laid bare what he said was a depressing change in the way the public values government workers.
"The advantage of being a federal employee is, supposedly, job stability. You sacrifice your total pay for whatever the job satisfaction and a high degree of job security," Haines said. "That's the tradeoff, supposedly - and, supposedly, good benefits."
On Thursday, though, he wasn't so sure of that.
The event of a government shutdown late Friday night means most of 15th District Congressman Tim Johnson's staff will be temporarily out of a job.
Fourteen workers in all would be laid off, and spokesman Phil Bloomer says he and three other staffers, including Chief of Staff Mark Shelden would remain on the job, but unpaid. Bloomer adds that there are a lot of other concerns regarding his office's daily dealings with the public.
"Our staff performs real vital services in terms of visas and passports, and helping people with their social security programs," Bloomer said. "We got dozens and dozens of other cases with the VA and social security, and otherwise."
Bloomer says he is still cautiously optimistic that an agreement will be reached by Congress tonight. He blames Congressional Democrats and those in the White House for 'dithering around' for months and allowing things to get to this crisis point.
With a government shutdown looming at midnight Friday night, all U.S. House Republicans from Illinois voted Thursday to fund the government for at least a week. The state's Democrats all voted against the bill.
Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Dold from the North Shore voted for the stopgap spending bill, which he says proves his party wants to avoid a shutdown.
"What we're doing right now is doing all we can to make sure we keep this budget - or the continuing resolution going so we can keep the government up and functioning for the American public," Dold said in an interview following the vote.
The bill would also fund the military through the end of the fiscal year.
The president has promised he would veto that measure, his staff pointing out it contains some $12 billion dollars in non-negotiated cuts.
Evanston Democrat Jan Schakowsky said Thursday that the onus is on Republicans to agree to a final deal.
"We have agreed to a number of pretty painful things. I'm not thrilled about what we've agreed to," Schakowsky said. "But they keep moving the goal posts, and it's clear that they are pushing for a shutdown."
Federal employees deemed "essential" can work through a shutdown. Members of Congress get to decide which of their staff fit that description. Schakowsky said she believes all her staff are essential, while Dold said he would "pare down" his team.
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