Illinois Public Media News
The strike by University of Illinois graduate student employees may be winding down.
Their negotiating team has reached a tentative agreement with the U of I over language in their contract regarding tuition waiver security.
The university says the tentative agreement will guarantee that grad assistants and teaching assistants will not have their tuition waivers reduced as long as they're in good standing, hold their assistantships and are making reasonable progress toward graduation.
The contract offer also includes items the two sides agreed on last Saturday, including higher stipends, more subsidies for health insurance and parental accommodation periods after the birth or adoption of a child. That disagreement led GEO members to walk out.
At a rally this afternoon on the U of I quad, spokesman Peter Campbell said members meeting tonight at the Wesley United Methodist Church will determine whether the strike will be suspended - he expects a ratification vote in the next few days.
A federal judge whittled down the list of defendants for Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial, dropping Springfield power broker William Cellini and leaving only the former governor and his brother.
And Michael Ettinger, an attorney for Blagojevich's brother, said Monday he will ask the judge within weeks to severe his client from the trial as well.
Judge James Zagel didn't drop charges against Cellini. Prosecutors are still free to bring him to trial after they finish with Blagojevich.
Meanwhile, Zagel says he's hoping to keep the June 3 trial date but left the door open for a brief delay requested by Blagojevich's lawyers.
Picket lines sprung up around four University of Illinois buildings this morning.
Several hundred Graduate Employees Organization members and supporters picked up picket signs and walked in circles near the entrances of the English and Foreign Languages buildings as well as Davenport and Gregory halls. They wore ponchos or carried umbrellas against today's cold rain.
After negotiations Saturday resolved every issue but one, Graduate Employees Organization leaders opted to call a strike beginning today. GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says currently most teaching or research assistants on the Urbana campus have all or part of their grad school tuition waived as part of their compensation for their work. But Campbell claims the U of I won't put it in writing that those waivers will go on.
"The purpose of a university -- especially a public land-grant university -- it to provide open, accessible and high-quality education, and tuition waivers are an important part of that," Campbell said. "It wouldn't cost the administration anything to provide a contractual guarantee of protection for tuition waivers."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler contends that the GEO didn't bring up the guarantee demand until the night of the talks. "The University offered Saturday night that if the Board of Trustees would ever want to change the general rules that affect tuition waivers, we would bargain with the GEO on that."
Kaler says faculty have been asked to make arrangements to hold classes in different locations or make alternate assignments for students during the strike. Campbell says faculty were alerted about picket sites before the strike, and many switched locations. U of I police say the strike has been uneventful so far, aside from a few complaints about excessive noise on the Quad.
Governor Pat Quinn says turning a mostly vacant prison in northwestern Illinois into a federal lockup is a "once in a lifetime opportunity." But concerns are being raised about the possibility of housing terrorists within the state's borders.
Federal inspectors were scheduled to be at the Thomson Correctional Center near the Quad Cities today. They're considering using it to house, among others, Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Governor Pat Quinn is on board. "We have, I believe, 345 convicted terrorists incarcerated across America," the Governor said. "And I believe the people of Illinois and the men and women who live here are more than capable of handling any type of assignment when it comes to incarcerating terrorists."
For Quinn, who is up for election, the proposal carries risk and reward. It's an opportunity to bring up to an estimated 3,000 jobs to the depressed area.
The prison has sat mostly vacant since it was built about 8 years ago, and the state lacks the money to fully open it. But some Republicans have been quick to criticize the plan. Quinn and fellow Democrat -- US Senator Dick Durbin -- spent Sunday trying to alleviate security fears, saying the super maximum prison at Thomson is considered a state of the art facility.
Picket lines are expected in front of an unknown number of University of Illinois Urbana campus buildings Monday morning.
After negotiations Saturday resolved every issue but one, Graduate Employees Organization leaders opted to call a strike beginning Monday. GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says currently most teaching or research assistants on the Urbana campus have all or part of their grad school tuition waived as part of their compensation for their work. But Campbell claims the U of I won't put it in writing that those waivers will go on.
"The purpose of a university --- especially a public land-grant universities is to provide open and accessible and high quality education, and I think tuition waivers are an important part of that", said Campbell. "And again, it wouldn't cost the administration anything to provide a contractual guarantee, protection for tuition waivers."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler contends that the GEO didn't bring up the guarantee demand until the night of the talks.
"The university offered Saturday night that if the university board of trustees would ever want to change the general rules that affect tuition waivers, we would bargain with the GEO on that", said Kaler.
Kaler says faculty have been asked to make arrangements to hold classes in different locations or make alternate assignments for students during the strike. Campbell says faculty have been told of picket sites, but he wouldn't say where strikers would be stationed for the picketing, scheduled to begin at 8 AM Monday morning.
Prosecutors asked a federal judge Friday to drop millionaire power broker William Cellini from Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial. Meanwhile, the former governor asked that the trial scheduled for June be postponed for months.
U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel is likely to grant the motion, which would allow for a separate trial but not dismiss any charges, because Cellini's lawyers have been seeking the same thing.
Cellini is a Springfield lobbyist-businessman and has been viewed for decades as one of the most influential behind-the-scenes men in Illinois politics. He is charged with attempting to extort a payoff or hefty contribution for the Blagojevich campaign from a Hollywood producer whose money management firm did business with the state.
A new state law paves the way for legal video gambling to come to bars and truck stops across Illinois --- unless local governments choose to opt out. A joint study session Thursday night of the Champaign County Board and Champaign and Urbana City Councils considered the pros and cons of the issue.
University of Illinois business professor and gambling opponent John Kindt says studies show that video gambling is a particularly addictive type of gambling. Kindt was a panelist at the s study session, and he says young people have been found to be especially vulnerable.
"By putting these machines in the middle of a student population, this is just the very worst type of gambling in the most vulnerable type of population base", said Kindt.
But the state is counting on tax revenue from legal video gambling to help pay for capital construction projects. In the audience, Larry Swope of the Illinois Pipe Trades Association says that revenue would help provide badly needed jobs.
"It's time we quit worrying about people who MAY end up having a problem, and start worrying about peole who DO have a problem", said Swope, "that don't have work, that if they had work, they could pay their taxes and get construction going. Our people are starving."
County Board member Alan Kurtz pushed for last night's study session. Kurtz is a Democrat whose county board district --- District 7 --- includes the Campustown area --- and most of its many bars. He says he's worried that video gambling machines will prove a dangerous attraction to college students --- even though they state law will require they be placed away from areas where underage patrons are allowed.
"To me, it's obvious that they're not going to be able to control it", said Kurtz. We don't have the police power to be able to be in every bar, every night."
But Champaign City Counciwoman Karen Foster, who also attended the joint session, said afterwards that she favored letting video gambling come to town --- even though she says might have preferred a different way of funding state projects.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, who moderated the panel discussion, says she'd like the state to replace video gambling with alternative funding sources for capital construction. Prussing says the Urbana City Council will continue to study the issue, but would not say if she thought her city should "opt-out", and ban video gambling locally.
It will be a year or longer before legal video gambling is actually a reality in Illinois. In the meantime, at least 27 county and municipal governments --- mostly in the Chicago area --- have voted to ban the games in their jurisdictions --- the county board bans only affect unincorporated areas.
Rallies were held on all three University of Illinois campuses Thursday as talks of a strike loomed among graduate workers in Urbana. Some of the chanting was aimed at administrators as more than 300 members and supporters of the Graduate Employees Organization made their way across the campus quad. The rally was held a few hours after two busloads of union members rallied in Springfield, where U of I Trustees were meeting, while 50 with the GEO rallied in Chicago.
Its membership approved a strike authorization vote last week over a living wage and guaranteed tuition waivers. The union says the U of I has agreed to a new negotiating session slated for Saturday afternoon. Co-President Caroline Nappo says it's the result of the membership meeting a week ago when more than 90% of voting members favored a strike. "When we put serious pressure on the university related to a possible work action they are more responsive," says Nappo. "We've been negotiating for almost seven months now and from April until just a few weeks ago, the university hadn't made any kind of offer that gave us anything." Nappo says there's been some movement on the areas of health care coverage and parental leave, and the administration agreed to drop some language about discrimination-based grievances.
GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says adding the Saturday session is encouraging, but its strike committee has been meeting regularly and can call for a work stoppage at any time. U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says she's hopeful the best possible contract can be reached within the university's financial constraints.
Once again, the Champaign City Council chamber was filled to capacity Tuesday night, with people concerned about police practices in the wake of the shooting death of Kiwane Carrington. This time, the topic was the department's new Use of Force policy, which took effect just before the 15 year old Carrington was shot in a police confrontation.
In his first public comments since his involvement in the confrontation in which Carrington was shot, Police Chief R-T Finney defended the policy, which he says was revised as part of his efforts to earn professional accreditation for the police department. He argued against remarks from police critics, who said that African-Americans were subject to more use of force by Champaign Police than white residents.
"The use of force is based on reasonableness," said Finney. "It's based on the actions that are presented to the officer. We review each one of them for that. It has nothing to do with race."
In contrast to two previous council meetings, police officers and supporters turned out in large numbers at Tuesday night's study session. Many wore buttons that said "Support Our Police". Albert Lo defended the Use of Force policy against critics who said it needed to be more specific.
"The Use of Force policy probably should be ambiguous," said Lo, "giving officers the opportunity to use their best judgment. That's why we hired them."
In contrast, 1st District Councilman Will Kyles said he thought the revised Use of Force policy might be too vague. For instance, he called for more specific guidelines on when officers can draw their gun.
Champaign Police officials say the revised policy allows deadly force only in cases where great bodily harm has or may occur. And they say the guidelines for Tasers are for when the department may call in another law enforce agency that uses Tasers --- Champaign does not. Chief Finney has talked about reviving the idea, but would not comment on the idea last night.
C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice was among those arguing Tuesday night for more specific language in the Use of Force policy, and against any language on Tasers. They also want any changes in police policy that directly affects affecting the community to come before the Champaign City Council. The group plans a noon-hour youth rally on Wednesday, Veterans Day, at the downtown Urbana Veterans Memorial, in memory of Kiwane Carrington.
A Douglas County Judge has ruled that an autistic 1st grader can continue bringing his service dog to school. Judge Michael Freese sided Tuesday with the family of 6-year old Kaleb Drew, saying 'Chewey' clearly functions as a service animal, keeping him calm and focused in class. Kaleb's mother, Nichelle Drew, says before the family got the Labrador retriever, her son often slept 2 to 3 hours at night, ran away from home, and they weren't able to take him to places like grocery stores and restaurants.
"We were seeing such improvement with Kaleb and such growth with Kaleb and Chewey as a team that we didn't want anything to hinder that," says Drew. "We wanted it to be able to continue and for Kaleb just to be able to continue to experience life to the fullest. And I think that's what every parent wants for their child. As parent of a child with autism, it's something that I don't get to experience very often."
Attorneys for the Villa Grove school district argued the dog wasn't helping the child's development, and can be disruptive to other students and staff. Based on the testimony from school staff, Judge Freese noted problems in dealing with the dog at times. But he says the real problems were with a state statute that doesn't clearly define Chewey's role while accompanying Kaleb at school. Villa Grove schools attorney Brandon Wright says its legal team is still weighing its options, and could appeal the district's decision. He says a big problem lies with a state law that allows service animals in schools, but doesn't provide much guidance.
"When you have a student who is young and incapable of being the handler of a dog, what does that mean for the school in terms of its responsibility?," says Wright. "And this statute is silent on that and the judge recognized that conundrum for the school district." This case and a separate lawsuit involving an autistic boy in southwestern Illinois are the first challenges to the state's law allowing service animals in schools. Authorities in both school districts have said that the boys' needs must be balanced against those of other children who have allergies or fear the animals.
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