Illinois Public Media News
About 80 Champaign employees, most of them in public works, are being asked to begin scheduling furlough days to reduce the impact of salary increases that went into effect last July.
City human resources director Chris Bezruki said the AFSCME union workers are being asked to take six furlough days between now and the end of August. He said the salaries of non-union city employees were frozen this fiscal year, but AFSCME received a 3-and a quarter percent raises. The union has responded to the furlough mandate by filing an unfair labor practice charge against the city of Champaign, alleging leaders negotiated in bad faith. Their complaint will go before the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
City negotiations with AFSCME Council 31 started in December. Bezruki said the two sides started to discuss the impact of furlough days.
"How many we need to take, and how we're going to do that?" Bezruki said. "How we're going to schedule it? What employee input should there be? Should they schedule a furlough day next to a holiday if they want, or things like that? They refused to make a counterproposal at all, and so we had declare an impasse just last month. And so now we're proceeding with implementing this process."
Michael Wilmore, a Staff Representative with the AFSCME union, said the city chose to ignore a number of other cost saving options, including a pay freeze, removing the cap on overtime pay to comp time, and starting a four 10-hour day schedule for public works. He contends the moves could have saved more than $200,000 additional dollars.
Bezruki said the complaint filed by AFSCME means the Labor Relations Board will request information on negotiations between the two sides, the proposals that were exchanged, and whether a hearing will take place. He said that process can be drawn out as long as six months.
A leader of University of Illinois graduate workers said the Urbana campus is actively working to soften the blow on those affected by a computer problem that meant taxes weren't withheld for seven years.
The payroll glitch on tuition waivers means 17 graduate employees will not see a paycheck for three months as the U of I owes thousands in back taxes. More than 250 other graduate assistants will be taxed for part of their tuition waivers starting this month, which could mean more than half of their pay.
Graduate Employees Organization co-president Stephanie Seawell said the U of I is actively meeting with the union to find solutions, but the two sides have yet to come up with a concrete plan.
"Hopefully we can find some sort of solution where they could spread out how they have to pay it," Seawell said. "Or in some cases, if they do a lot of teaching work, they might be able to be teaching assistants instead of the classifications that generate these sort of taxes."
The GEO said the deepest impact may be felt on international students, some of who have spouses who aren't eligible to work in the U.S. U of I spokesman Tom Hardy said the only apparent solution now for the graduate workers is taking out a loan.
"We are obliged to make these withholdings," Hardy said. "And we greatly appreciate the patience and cooperation on the part of these graduate students."
Hardy said graduate assignment classifications for many of the students vary on the Urbana campus, making it difficult to find a uniform solution. The U of I's change to the Banner computer system was only made in Urbana, and graduate workers in Chicago and Springfield were not affected.
Your old TV sets, tape decks, VCR's and computers are all welcome at Saturday's electronics recycling event on the north side of Champaign. It's one of four recycling collections held each year in Champaign County.
Bart Hagston is the environmental sustainability manager for the city of Urbana, which co-sponsors the event. He said he hopes that people will get into the habit of recycling their old electronic gear. He cautions that next year, simply throwing the items into the trash will not be an option. Starting Jan. 1, 2012, computers, computer monitors, printers and televisions will be banned from Illinois landfills.
"People will no longer be able to set those out with the regular trash," Hagston said. "So we're trying to help people get rid of any backlog of these items that they have in their home."
Hagston said the contractor they've hired to perform the recycling follows all state regulations on data security, to ensure that no data is stolen from the old computer hard drives that are dropped off at the event.
If it's a reusable computer hard drive, they have software approved by the Department of Defense to erase that, and then they can reuse it," Hagston said. "Or of it's not a working drive, or it's an older drive that's not going to get reused, they will shred it and then recycle the metals."
Besides computers, computer accessories and TV's, the electronic recycling event will takes fax machines, mobile phones DVD and VCR players, MP3 players, PDA's and video game consoles. No more than ten items per resident will be accepted.
The electronic recycling event runs Saturday, March 5th, from 8 AM until noon at the News-Gazette Distribution Center on Apollo Drive, just off North Market Street in Champaign. To keep the traffic flowing smoothly, Hagston said motorists should approach the site on Market Street from the south ...and follow the signs.
The Champaign County Regional Planning Authority is the main sponsor for Saturday's electronic recycling event. For more information, call 384-2302
Students, instructors, and graduates of the University of Illinois' Institute of Aviation say administrators want to close a valuable program at a time when it's needed most.
About 80 of them Thursday discussed an industry that stands to lose about 37,000 pilots in the U.S. alone over the next 10 years. U of I Graduate Nathan Butcher is now a Delta pilot. He said there's a decline in training overall, and many pilots are nearing their mandatory retirement age. Butcher said administrators have a very narrow view of the Institute, which is turning out more than pilots.
"The Institute of Aviation is a long standing center for excellence in the field of professional pilot training, aviation research, and aviation safety advancements," he said. "Unfortunately, the university's administration defines the Institute of Aviation's role as being very technical and only worth of trade school status. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Willard Airport Tower Air Traffic Controller Kevin Gnagey said two thirds of his workforce is nearing retirement age, and that the Institute generates 85% of the traffic they direct at Willard. Gnagey contends the U of I is also throwing away the chance for future research on airport grounds.
"I would also be so bold as to assert that losing the Institute of Aviation could pose a large loss to the University of Illinois," he said. "This loss may not be immediately evident, but as the FAA is investing billions of dollars into research and development in new technology for the next generation of the national airspace system, opportunities would be lost."
Instructor and U of I graduate Joseph McElwee said while no decision has been made, he says administrators are trying to make closing the institute easier by moving remaining faculty to other academic units, and denying Fall 2011 admission to new applicants.
"They say that no decision has been made, so we don't have to bargain with your VAP's (Vistiing Academic Professionals)," McElwee said. "But at the same time, if you think about this, it's just an academic institution. And so the backbone of this is the students. And if we don't have students, there's no one to teach."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the recommendation to close the facility came after evaluating competing interests of students, faculty, and the public, and determining that closing the Institute and discontinuing degree programs were in the best interests of the Urbana campus. She also cites declining enrollment at the Institute in the past decade, noting it had 176 applicants in 2002, admitting 119, and 65 freshman enrolled. In 2010, the Institute had 112 applicants, admitting 65 and 34 enrolled.
A hearing on the Institute's future will be held Tuesday before Urbana campus Senate. The plan must also go before the U of I's Board of Trustees and the State Board of Higher Education.
Republicans in the U.S, House of Representatives say if the federal government shuts down over a budget impasse, it won't be their fault.
15th district congressman Tim Johnson returned to Champaign-Urbana Thursday with an additional two weeks remaining until the federal government would have to shut down without a spending plan in place for the rest of the fiscal year.
But Johnson said Democrats in the Senate and White House need to make the next move.
"We've done our job," Johnson told reporters at Willard Airport. "We'll see what they come back with. But I don't want to have this mantra that we faced from 1995 where (Democrats said) 'It's the Republicans who are shutting down government.' It's not the Republicans shutting down government. We have acted. They didn't act. They controlled the whole process for upwards of half the fiscal year and did nothing."
On Thursday the Obama administration proposed another $6.5 billion in cuts, but Johnson said that pales in comparison to the $100 billion cut the GOP has promised, and he doesn't see the spirit of compromise in the President's offer.
Johnson also defended a provision in the Republicans' plan that zeroes out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Johnson - who has been a member of the House Public Broadcasting Caucus - said the budget had to be passed, even with the severe cut.
"You can't fail to act on the budget simply because there are certain items within the budget that you'd rather see reenacted," he said. "Certainly that's of concern; there are a number of areas of concern to me. But the overwhelming concern is that we're in debt, we're broke and we have to do something about it.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press and Illinois Public Radio)
Indiana House members who remain absent from the state capitol might soon face daily fines for every day they stay away. House Republicans on Thursday approved fines against the Democrats for every day they stay away from the House floor.
State Representative Jerry Torr (R-Carmel) said the fines could go as high as $250 a day.
"We wanted an amount that would make the members think about whether or not they need to be here," Torr said. "Furthermore, every citizen in Indiana is being disenfranchised because without a quorum none of us can conduct business."
Most Indiana House Democrats are continuing to stay in Urbana to prevent action on labor and education bills they oppose. But two of them were on the House floor Thursday for a quorum call --- including State Representative Charlie Brown (D-Gary). Brown said it is customary for such fines to be waived when the minority party returns. But he said Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma warned him from the speaker's rostrum, "Don't bet on it, Representative Brown."
"So obviously once more he's digging his heels in, and creating a greater divide between the Democratic and the Republican caucus," Brown said.
Democrats' boycott of the Indiana House session has now extended to an 11th day. Brown said there are five bills that are keeping Democrats from returning to the Indiana House --- one on school vouchers, and four related to Right-to-Work legislation.
Ind. Elections Chief Charged With Voter Fraud
Indiana's top elections official was indicted Thursday on voter fraud and other charges for allegedly listing his ex-wife's address as his own on voting and loan forms and serving on a town council when he was ineligible, a prosecutor said.
The stalemate between Democratic and Republican state lawmakers in Indiana nears the end of its second week.
Indiana House Democrats are still held up at the Comfort Suites in Urbana.
They fled their state capitol to avoid a quorum and possible arrest by Indiana State Police.
House Minority Speaker Pat Bauer actually returned to Indianapolis for a little while Wednesday morning to meet with GOP leadership including Majority Speaker Brian Bosma.
Bauer said they refuse to drop bills aimed at diminishing the impact of organized labor, gutting collective bargaining for teachers and providing taxpayer money as vouchers to allow parents to send their children to private schools.
"This is a process where we are trying to deradicalize the majority who are trying to cut the wages of thousands of workers in Indiana," Bauer said. "When they agree that they are not going to do that or help minimize the impact of that in some way, we'll come back."
Bauer returned to Urbana, about two hours west of Indianapolis, where he continued to caucus with about 30 Democrats staying at the Comfort Inn in Urbana.
Several Northwest Indiana state Representatives are among the group, including Dan Stevenson of Highland, Vernon Smith of Gary, Mara Candelaria Reardon of Munster and Linda Lawton of Hammond.
House Republicans will try again this morning the restart the legislative session in Indianapolis where protestors continue to show up.
(Photo by Michael Puente/IPR)
A plan to prevent releasing the names of those authorized to have guns in Illinois has stalled despite gun owners' burgeoning concern over privacy and safety, prompted by the state attorney general's opinion that the information is public record following an Associated Press request.
Gun advocates called for Attorney General Lisa Madigan to reverse her decree or for lawmakers to move swiftly to overturn it, and Republicans launched a petition drive to bolster the movement. Anti-violence groups countered that releasing the information is important to keep government accountable.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee on civil law voted 5-5 Wednesday to halt a bill from advancing that would prohibit state police from making public the names of the 1.3 million holders of Firearm Owners identification cards. The measure's sponsor, Republican Rep. Ron Stephens of Greenville, says he will continue pushing the ban.
Madigan's office ruled Monday night, in response to AP's public records request, that the list of FOID cardholders is public record and must be disclosed. Permit holders' addresses and telephone numbers would remain private.
State police officials, who claimed Illinois law bars the disclosure as an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, said they will challenge the ruling in court.
Madigan's decree refuted the police assertions about privacy and said officials had not proven that making the records public would jeopardize anyone's safety. The Illinois State Rifle Association disagreed. Director Richard Pearson said "there is no legitimate reason for anyone to have access to the information."
"The safety of real people is at stake here," Pearson said in a statement. "Once this information is released, it will be distributed to street gangs and gun-control groups who will use the data to target gun owners for crime and harassment."
Federal law prohibits felons from possessing guns and Mark Walsh, campaign director for the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said there's more behind the issue than just publicizing names.
"Having those records in the public arena is also helpful in making sure that local law enforcement and the state police are following up with those people who have FOID cards who should be prohibited purchasers," Walsh said.
That's been the effect elsewhere around the country, particularly with statewide data about licenses issued to people who want to carry concealed weapons, which is allowed in most states but not Illinois. Among some examples:
- An investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published in 2007 found 1,400 people who were given concealed-carry licenses in the first half of 2006 had earlier pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies but qualified for guns because of a loophole in the law.
-In Memphis, Tenn., The Commercial Appeal found at least 70 people in the Memphis area who had concealed-carry permits despite violent histories including robbery, assault and domestic violence. A firestorm erupted after the newspaper posted an online database in 2008 of names of all concealed-carry permit holders in Tennessee. Legislatures in Florida and Tennessee have since voted to make information on permit holders private.
-The Indianapolis Star found hundreds of people convicted of felonies or other "questionable" cases in which people were subsequently granted concealed-carry permits, often over protests from local law enforcement officials and in some instances where it appeared the state police had a legal obligation to deny them.
The Illinois Republican Party launched a petition drive Wednesday to support legislation such as Stephens' to prohibit disclosure of the information. Stephens said he will have another chance before the House committee with his bill. A Senate version has yet to get a hearing.
Democratic Rep. Mike Zalewski of Chicago was among those urging Stephens to retool his legislation, with some suggesting he consider records aside from just the FOID cards. But Zalewski doesn't buy the arguments that disclosure would jeopardize gun owners if no addresses are released.
"The random thug that wants to break into homes, I don't think that person has the wherewithal to match names, go through all those processes they'd have to go through to commit a crime like that," Zalewski said. "If it's the names alone, I side with the attorney general.
Public universities in Illinois are letting state lawmakers know how government funding cuts have impacted them.
The schools are hoping to avoid further cuts in the next state budget. University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said he put in a request for more money from the state. Now he said he is just hoping his funding level stays the same without getting docked by legislators.
"The governor has come in asking for less," he said.
Hogan said keeping high-profile faculty at the university is hard when he can't offer competitive salaries. He said the school remains under a hiring freeze. Meanwhile, Southern Illinois University's president Glenn Poshard said he's having the same problems. He said the money issues at his school have been exacerbated by late payments from the state.
"If this the state's not going to help us," Poshard exclaimed. "I mean had we not had the income fund monies that we have from the tuition increases, we couldn't make payroll."
But lawmakers say universities, just like every other state benefactor, must tighten their belts to survive the state's current budget crisis.
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