Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Storm Shelters Scarce for Champaign Neighborhood

Residents of a mobile home park that has become a center of Champaign-Urbana's Hispanic community has no central place to go in an emergency. As Jose Diaz of the investigative reporting unit CU-Citizen Access reports, residents want the situation to change.

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Cherry Orchard Landlords Continue to House Tenants

Despite a court order barring Bernard and Eduardo Ramos from accepting tenants at the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, they continue to do so, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

The Ramoses were found guilty Monday in Champaign County court of failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines ($100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems).

The judge in the case, John Kennedy, also issued an injunction, preventing the Ramoses from housing tenants until Cherry Orchard is brought up to code.

The Ramoses submitted a notice of appeal following the ruling.

Public Health administrator Julie Pryde said her department sent a health inspector to Cherry Orchard twice after the verdict. About 20 vehicles were discovered on the property. The health inspector spoke to a tenant who said she confronted Bernard Ramos about media coverage surrounding the trial. Pryde said the tenant was told by Ramos that he is appealing the court ruling, and that there's "no reason to move."

"It's clear that he has been moving people in almost continuously since we told him to stop," Pryde said. "He's actually gone out of his way to tell people that it's ok that they continue to live there."

Pryde said her department is working with different state agencies to help find remaining Cherry Orchard tenants permanent homes.

"I can't even begin to imagine how much time has been spent on this Cherry Orchard situation, and you know none of that money comes back to these agencies," she said.

This is not the first time efforts have been made to find emergency homes for Cherry Orchard tenants. Back in January, Pryde organized a meeting with groups including the Salvation Army, the United Way, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to help get tenants into safe, permanent housing.

Pryde said she would like to see increased enforcement to ensure that the court order is followed. A request for comment from the Champaign County State's Attorney was not immediately returned.

Bernard Ramos and his family have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County; however, several are now or have been under foreclosure during the past few years - with at least seven sold in sheriff's auctions since 2008, according to an analysis of Champaign County Recorder's Office documents.

Cherry Orchard is located right outside of Rantoul, and has traditionally housed migrant workers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Indiana Senate OKs Bill to Cut Planned Parenthood Funding

The Indiana Senate has approved a bill that would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and give Indiana some of the country's tightest abortion restrictions.

The Republican-ruled Senate voted 35-13 for the bill, which would prohibit state funding to organizations that provide abortion and cut off some federal money that the state distributes. It also would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.

Opponents say the bill is "unconscionable'' and would keep low-income women from getting health screenings, birth control and other services Planned Parenthood provides.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana says the bill is unconstitutional and vows to take the issue to court.

The bill now moves to the GOP-led House for consideration.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Ill. Treasurer: Pension Battle Belongs in Court

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says the state should give government employees an option between pension plans and then defend the change in court.

The Republican said Tuesday he thinks giving current employees a choice between the current, guaranteed payment pension plan and a new 401(k)-style program would not run afoul of the state constitution. The constitution bars cutting retiree benefits.

A major union says the idea wouldn't raise the same "constitutional red flags'' as simply reducing benefits.

But the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees says Rutherford's proposal wouldn't fix the state's pension problems.

Rutherford says the state cannot afford to fund pensions in its current form. He says the switch would help restore solvency.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Tea Party, MoveOn.Org, Each Rally in Champaign on Tax Day

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)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 17, 2011

U of I Service Workers Won’t Strike

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.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 15, 2011

UI Prepares for Possible Workers’ Strike

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.

Categories: Economics, Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 15, 2011

Illinois State Senate Passes Sweeping Education Changes‎

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.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2011

Urbana’s Mayor, Legislator, Work to Keep UI Police Training Facility Open

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.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 13, 2011

Overhaul Sought for Worker’s Compensation in Illinois

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.

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