Illinois Public Media News
Graduate workers at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus are a step closer to finalizing a new 3-year contract.
Members of the Graduate Employees Organization ratified the agreement between Thursday and Sunday, forwarding it to U of I administrators. The GEO unanimously voted to suspend a 2-day strike at a membership meeting last Tuesday night, after coming to agreement on protection for tuition waivers. The two sides had already agreed on items like salary, health care, and child care.
Spokesman Peter Campbell says the GEO's 26-hundred members had ample opportunity to cast a ballot from Thursday morning through Sunday, and he's not alarmed that about 350 members turned out for it. "Given all of the work and labor and energy that GEO members have invested, it doesn't really surprise me that this sort of final step would not have quite as high of a participation as the strike authorization vote," says Campbell. Campbell says a small portion of the votes, or just over 30, were against the agreement during the ratification vote. GEO members have been at work since last Tuesday evening.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the ratification will not require a vote from university trustees, as previously thought. She says the ratification vote could come yet this week, and involves five individuals, including the comptroller, interim Provost and Chancellor Robert Easter, and a chief negotiator. But Kaler says those campus leaders had yet to receive the contract from the GEO as of Monday afternoon.
The State of Illinois has established a new office called Public Health Advocate.
The state already has a public health agency... but this role will go a step further... according to the Governor. He says the Advocate will improve health through education. The Advocate will also develop strategies for preventing and treating diseases.... Including asthma and diabetes. Governor Pat Quinn says another task will include making sure residents understand their health insurance options and their public health rights.
As health care has become the most expensive part of state government, Quinn says the Advocate will consider cost conscious measures.
While it's likely you've not heard about the new office until now... it's expected to become high profile in the future. The Public Health Advocate will work directly with local agencies... universities... schools and others.
The Governor used the occasion of American Diabetes month to create the office through an executive order.
Governor Pat Quinn says the public admonishment of U.S. Sen. Roland Burris by the Senate Ethics Committee "speaks for itself.''
Quinn on Friday said he had nothing to add to it.
The governor says he intends to work with Burris through the end of his term in 2011, especially to help veterans and their families.
Burris isn't running for a full term after being appointed by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The Ethics Committee didn't recommend that Burris be punished, but it admonished him for making "inconsistent, misleading or incomplete'' statements about the circumstances surrounding his appointment.
A new law will help the state get more federal money to pay hospitals that care for the poor.
The state is expecting to get more than $1.1 billion from Washington because the federal government has temporarily increased its Medicaid reimbursement rate as part of the stimulus package.
The money will help the state pay Medicaid bills owed to hospitals and some other providers, including pharmacists.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill Friday at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital.
State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg of Evanston said the money can only be spent on health care and human services. It cannot be diverted to other projects in the cash-strapped state.
Schoenberg said the money should start flowing early next year.
The Champaign Police Department says it's revising its Use of Force policy, to clarify its guidelines on when to use deadly force.
The revised policy took effect last month, but ran into controversy in the wake of the Kiwane Carrington shooting. Critics said it appeared to allow officers to use deadly force on suspects who were escaping or resisting arrest --- even if there's no sign that they have harmed or are likely to harm other people.
Police Chief R-T Finney calls that a misinterpretation. He says new language in the policy will make it clear the department follows state statute, which says that escaping or resisting arrest, is not --- by itself --- grounds for an officer to use deadly force.
"We put the statute (language) into the policy", says Finney. "That didn't seem clear to a lot of people. So we're taking it and kind of rearranging it, and making sure that it reads very clear that what the restrictions of deadly force when the suspect is trying to resist or escape have to have certain criteria."
The policy's language on Tasers has been another point of controversy, since Champaign Police don't' use Tasers. Finney says the language is meant to provide guidance for times when they call in other police agencies that DO use Tasers.
"We will be putting the actual restrictions in the policy and spelling those restrictions out, with a statement indicating that the Champaign Police Department does not deploy Tasers, but make it very clear that when we call other agencies in, here are the restrictions and guidelines (under which) we would call someone else in."
Also under the proposed revisions, language that was taken out of the policy ... on when a police officer may display a firearm ... will be restored.
And there's language that directs the department to send the annual report on its use of force in the past year to the Champaign City Council and Human Relations Commission for review.
Finney says he expects to present the changes to the city manager and city attorney for review in the next few weeks.
Work it out. That was the message from the Champaign County Board Thursday night to the County Board of Health and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. County Board members voted to reject the Health Board's request that they give 12-months notice for the termination of their contract for public health services with the CU-PHD. The Board of Health wanted the termination notice to spur talks to renegotiate their five-year contract with the CUPHD. Board President Julian Rappaport says a hike in CUPHD administrative fees is too high - and that the Public Health District Board defers too much to administrator Julie Pryde - who he says doesn't listen to their concerns. "Basically they don't have to respond to us in any way they don't want to respond to us because it's a contractual arrangment not a geninue intergovernmental arrangment."
But CUPHD Board Chair Carol Elliott accuses the Board of Health of not listening to Pryde when she tells them things they don't want to hear. "The negotiations - there's a lot of tension there because we give information and if they don't agree with it, then that's when they say that we're being unresponsive." Several county board members said the Board of Health and the Public Health District Board need to work things out - perhaps with a mediator - but that a contract termination notice was not the way to encourage dialog.
A committee working for better relations between the Champaign police and the African-American community is scheduled to meet Thursday (November 19th) at 3 PM, at the Douglass Community Center. After a decade of regular meetings, the Champaign Community and Police Partnership is getting more attention, following last month's shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington during a police confrontation. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports on the group, known as "C-Cap" for short:
Champaign County Board of Health officials are unhappy with the public health services provided for the county through a contract with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. So, in order to re-negotiate, they've asked the County Board to approve a one-year termination notice at its meeting Thursday night.
Board of Health President Julian Rappaport says their arrangement with the CUPHD gives them little flexibility. The Public Health District provides similar health services to both Champaign-Urbana and the county, with the CUPHD administrator acting as the county's health director. Rappaport says there's no incentive for the CUPHD to be responsive to the Board of Health's particular concerns.
"We don't have any ability to set and implement policies that we think would be good policies for the county", says Rappaport. "So the nature of that relationship just completely limits us. Essentially what the County Board of Health becomes is a kind of a pass-through agency."
In addition, Rappaport says the county can't afford a CUPHD budget request for higher administrative costs for next year. A formal termination notice would allow the Board of Health to start negotiating with the Public Health District now, instead of waiting for its contract to expire in 2013. And if the negotiations don't go well, Rappaport says the Board of Health has hired a consultant to look at possible alternatives.
But CUPHD administrator Julie Pryde says there are few changes that can be made to basic state-mandated public health services, especially when little money exists to provide additional services.
"You have core services that your have to provide with Public Health funds", says Pryde. "And it specifies what needs to be done. Anything above and beyond that, there is some discretion. But if you're only covering your costs, you don't have much discretion."
In addition, Pryde says the termination notice would be confusing to the public, giving the false impression that health services might be disrupted. That's what happened in 2003, when a public health services contract ran out before the county and the CUPHD could come to terms on a new agreement. In this case, the termination notice would mean that the Public Health District's current health services to the county would continue for one year, while negotiations proceed.
Pryde says she's very accessible, and the County Board of Health doesn't need a formal termination notice to talk to her.
A Central Illinois Congressman is joining a number of his colleagues in their efforts to block the move of terrorism suspects to Thomson Prison. Urbana Republican Tim Johnson says the Obama administration plan 'flies in the face of common sense... exposing Illinois to a terrorist threat.' But Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer says the bigger concern is what rights those Guantanamo Bay detainees would have once incarcerated in the U-S.
"If they are tried in civilian courts here, the rules of evidence are far different in civliian courts than in military courts," says Bloomer. "And there is the possiblity of these people getting released on technicalities. That can't happen on U.S. soil." Johnson plans to co-sponsor of legislation sponsored by Peoria Republican Aaron Schock that would prohibit the use of federal funds to support the transfer of those prisoners. And Johnson has signed a letter written by Congressman Mark Kirk requesting a briefing from the Department of Defense. It calls for a Homeland Security Impact Study... looking at the vulnerability of Illinois landmarks.
Bloomer says the DOD has 'stonewalled' the efforts of many to find out more about the Thomson plan and its implications. He also cites a letter written by Republican State Senator Bill Brady. He's asked Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan whether approval from state legislators is needed to sell the prison.
Teaching and graduate assistants return to work Wednesday on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. The Graduate Employees Organization has ended its strike, after reaching a tentative agreement with the administration on a new three-year contract.
The official decision to suspend the strike was made by the GEO's strike committee Tuesday night, following a membership meeting in which members unanimously endorsed the tentative contract and the suspension of their two-day walkout.
Grad student workers had struck over tuition waivers --- and GEO spokesman Rich Potter says the university is promising in a side letter to the new contract, that any changes to the current tuition waiver policy will be subject to negotiation with the union. Potter says the language is a compromise, since the union had wanted the administration to renounce any discussion of a change in the waiver policy altogether.
A U of I news release says that "during the term of the three-year agreement, graduate assistant and teaching assistants will not have their tuition waivers reduced while they hold qualifying assistantships, are in good academic standing, and are making proper progres toward graduation in the program in which they began."
GEO member and mathematics teaching assistant Dan Lior says tuition waivers had been the most important issue for him. And he says he's pleased that the union's efforts created progress on the issue.
"For me personally, the difference is that the union demonstrated the ability of the everyday person to make changes that matter", says Lior. "It's a shame that it had to come to a strike, but we still do have the power to influence the way things are run."
The tentative agreement also includes a ten percent raise over three years for the minimum graduate worker salary --- union spokesman Potter says that's an improvement, but still short of the Living Wage that the union had sought for all graduate employees. He says the GEO will continue to push for a Living Wage for all grad employees when the next contract is negotiated. The new agreement also includes two additional weeks of unpaid parental leave and increases to the university's contribution to health care premiums (reaching 75% in the third year of the agreement).
"I think we're very happy to reach agreement", said Urbana campus administration spokesperson Robin Kaler. "We absolutely value the work that our graduate assistants do, and we're very excited to move forward."
GEO spokesman Rich Potter says they hope to schedule a ratification vote for this week.The agreement would then go the U of I Board of Trustees for their vote. If approved by both sides, the contract would be retroactive to the start of the semester.
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