Friday, May 30, 2008
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Prison workers make their grievances known 

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[May 30, 2008]  AFSCME Local 501 and 2073 union members stood in the sun at an informational picket at Fifth Street and Lincoln Parkway Thursday afternoon. The two groups represent the Lincoln and Logan Correctional facilities, respectively. Both want their concerns on the problems with the new four-year contract negotiations known to the public.

InsuranceJohn Black and Dave Lockenour, both union representatives, explained the situation. Black advised that, "We have been negotiating since December on a new contract, and although we still have time, we are far behind in where we normally would be with new contract negotiations." Black stated that presently only 54 percent of the new contract has been agreed upon by both parties.

Lockenour advised that normally this late in their negotiations, 85 percent of the contract is done. The two principal sticking points in negotiations are big ones, according to the two union reps.

The first is that the new contract proposal by the state will increase costs of health care and co-pays, as well as increase retirement premiums. When the additional costs are factored in, the union officials say they are in fact being asked to accept a contract that will have additional new costs that will in effect negate the proposed raise, thus making it a "zero-sum proposal."

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The second logjam in negotiations is that the prison system currently has a mandatory overtime system that requires employees to work the second shifts with little or no prior notice. These extra eight-hour shifts have been created by the continued cutbacks in manpower at not only our two area prisons, but in prisons statewide.

Employees who refuse the overtime are subject to disciplinary action. "People have children. They have families. An unexpected second shift can really be a hardship, plus it can be hard on us working so much," Black said.

What makes this situation even less acceptable to union workers is that the current Illinois budget has funding in place for hiring additional staff in many agencies, including the Department of Corrections.

State Rep. Elizabeth Coulson, R-Glenview, is on record as saying, "We're finding that every state agency we've talked to so far has funding for staff, but they have not been filled. The governor's office is not allowing them to replace people or to fill open positions."

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According to state records, the Illinois Department of Corrections spent $24.5 million on overtime in fiscal year 2007, with employees recording 686,215 hours of overtime.

Both union officials stated that the work force at the prisons is down a full 25 percent from 2004 levels, with a drastic cutback in sergeants and lieutenants on the job at both area prisons. It was stated by Black and also by Lockenour that the wall of photographs of Department of Corrections officials in both prisons' main lobbies often outnumbers the staff at shift roll call.

Black wanted to make it clear, "All we are asking for is a new contract that gives us a fair cost of living increase to keep up with things over the next four years."

The problem with mandatory overtime might continue for a while. Currently, House Bill 5661, known as the State Facility Overtime Act, provides that the director of the state agency responsible for the operation of a specified state of Illinois facility may not require an employee to work in excess of 40 hours per week. The bill, originally sponsored by state Rep Lisa Dugan, D-Bradley, and state Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion, has been sent back to the Rules Committee at the date of this report.




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