Tuesday, July 15


Another dark day as
Local 425 closes    
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[JULY 15, 2003]  It was October of 1943 when AFSCME Local 425 received its charter and became the union representative for the employees of the Lincoln State School and Colony. As changes took place at the state school the union also changed.

In the late 1970s the facility became the Lincoln Developmental Center. At that time several thousand residents were sent out to other places. Some of the facility was closed.

As Local 425 continued to grow in members, it needed bigger office space. It brought in more dues and could afford a larger office. Approximately 10 years ago Local 425 moved from its location on South Chicago Street to 626 N. Chicago. It is at this address that the local remained until it officially closed on July 2.

The closing has brought about much sentiment. When Roy Lawry heard, he commented: "From the start of the local to its final days, 425 members fought for the good of the developmentally disabled residents they served. With Local 425, LDC has been a much better home for thousands of the disabled who learned to live full, more productive lives. It will be sorely missed."

Dan Senters, the president of Local 425 from November 1978 through December 1998, said, "The members need to realize that they are the union. We couldn't have been so successful without our members."

The local and the facility have had their share of ups and downs during the past 60 years. In the 1990s it was with a lot of support from the members of Local 425 that LDC attained national status as the first large state facility in the country to become accredited under the new outcome-based measures. AFSCME members shared the makeup of the accreditation committee with facility management. They traveled together throughout the country promoting these measures.

The past four years have seen a tremendous struggle waged by the local to keep Lincoln Developmental Center's doors open. During 2001 and 2002 Local 425 was at the center of the battle. The union hall became headquarters in the war against Gov. George Ryan's plans to close the facility.

When speaking about the union activities, Sherry Jennings said, "I learned a lot -- about freedom of speech and rights and security."

Don Todd, president of Local 425, said, "There was always something going on at the union hall. "We had Dan Senters come into the hall on a daily basis to coordinate rallies, hearings in court, political lobbying and news conferences. Council 31 worked with Senters to keep the pressure on the governor, and we were constantly working at the hall to win the fight."

During that period many political leaders from across Illinois joined forces with the local in the struggle. Many officials, including state Sen. Larry Bomke, Rep. Bill Mitchell and Illinois' current lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, came to the hall to support the union and LDC. Mayor Beth Davis was also a frequent visitor. The union hall also had coverage from newspapers and television news stations statewide.

After the Health Facility Planning Board ruled on Aug. 15, 2002, that Gov. Ryan could legally close LDC, paving the way for the facility's official closure on Aug. 31 last year, the local union chose to keep its doors open.

"We still had lots of work to do. We were not just going to close down," Todd said. "We intended to win the war to keep LDC open. I talked to Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer, and he agreed that we should keep the hall open."

Todd, Charlie Sanders and Senters began volunteering their time at the hall. The hall became the place that people who were laid off would come to for help in finding work. Sanders and Kim Dennison worked through the Illinois Employment Agency to help people find jobs and also assisted them with unemployment issues. The local always had people coming in to help out, find out information, raise issues or simply to visit.

The union originally hoped to resurrect LDC during the 2002 fall legislative session. When this did not happen, they came back to lobby during the spring session of 2003.

People were at the hall throughout these times, calling legislators, working for political friends of LDC, walking precincts and calling people to get out the vote during the 2002 election. People came to the hall to catch a bus to go to Springfield and lobby during the fall session.

"We returned to Springfield again in the spring of 2003," said Todd.


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By the end of February 2003 the hall was out of money. With all of its members laid off, the local had no dues money coming in. LDC, however, remained closed and the local's work was still not finished.

At this time Local 425 supporters and those who had fought alongside them came forward to help keep the hall open. AFSCME Local 2073 from the Department of Corrections contributed $700 to help the local make it through the month of March. The Lincoln Parents Association helped them through April, May and June.

In April Illinois' new governor committed to Sen. Bomke that he would reopen LDC. At the end of June the money for reopening the facility was in the new budget. AFSCME Local 425 had played a significant role in every part of the LDC struggle and now saw its work come to a successful conclusion.

Council 31 has assumed responsibility for the hall until they can move everything out of it. Todd said, "Without dues money to keep the hall open, and realizing that when LDC reopens the size of the membership will not sustain an office of its current size, it was not feasible to keep the hall open." With the work at the union hall finished, the hall is now officially closed.

Many of the local's members are not happy with the decision to close the hall. Some, like Lyle Horner, said, "With the reopening it would make sense to hold on a few more months and save the expense of starting over."

Karen Hughes summed up the hard reality that past members are facing when she said, "It was hard enough to see LDC close."

Employees give numerous reasons for the hall to remain open.

"The union hall was our last means of getting job information, checking seniority lists, and more importantly it was a place where everyone could keep in touch with each other and give each other moral support," Patty Detmers said. "The stigma of losing our jobs still affects a lot of us greatly! Not only have some of our residents passed away, but a lot of people are still facing financial hardship."

Diane Underwood commented, "It's not just a union hall, it's a reunion hall."

Diane Sizemore said, "The union hall is a place that I could go and still feel that I had a chance to get back to the job that I loved."

"Now more than ever the union hall is needed as a source of information and assurance that members' rights are protected." said Ester Gill.

"Without the hall there is no one we can contact with questions and concerns that have been through the LDC closing and can truly understand how we are feeling," Vicky Faber remarked.

"I hope that the hall stays open so the union can continue helping displaced workers with personal issues," Marilyn Cisco said.

Nikole Swartz said that she thinks it's sad everything is closing. "We provided one of the best services around for families with disabilities," she said. "We provided a home for families that didn't have one or we were their extended family."

There is a lot of sadness at the hall closing. "It's strange," Charlie Sanders said, "I've spent so much time here."

Council 31 will still be available to help members with issues during the interim when the union hall is closed. When LDC reopens the union will resume as a local.

"I'll miss it," Todd said. "It's been a symbol of support for our members through these difficult times. It's been a bastion of strength for nearly 60 years for its members and the residents of LDC. The union hall has been a part of the Lincoln community, and Local 425 has been a great part of Council 31. My only consolation is that the members who return to LDC when it reopens will be the same people who made Local 425 and LDC great in the first place. I have to feel good about that."


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