Thursday, July 30, 2009
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AFSCME members put a face on local prison crisis

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[July 30, 2009]  Wednesday afternoon, informational picketers, family members and supporters of AFSCME members employed at the two local correctional facilities gathered at Edward Madigan State Park.

Initially, roughly 120 were on hand, and those numbers swelled to 175-plus after the afternoon shifts at the prisons let out.

The picketers were there to protest cutbacks in prison employees at both the Logan and Lincoln Correctional centers, which are proposed under the current state budget passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn.

New numbers confirmed by state Sen. Larry Bomke, present at the picket, show that the number of potential job losses has been trimmed from159 to 117, but Bomke says that number is still unacceptable.

John Black, president of Local 2073 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, put the new number in perspective when he explained that 118 layoffs represents a full half of the current 327 union members on the job.

A great many of the picketers' signs asked similar questions. "Who will pay my mortgage?" was a common sign. Several more pointed out that Quinn's proposal to allow early release of prisoners would make neighborhoods, including those in Logan County, less safe. On that subject, signs that said "Our jobs or your safety" and "Where are they going to live? Will Lincoln be safe?" were the most prevalent.

Bomke said that the current rate of recidivism (criminals returning to prison) was at 59 percent in Illinois. He asked what the rate would rise to if many are released before their time was up. And with the additional cuts in social service personnel helping with drug counseling and job training, he feared that the percentage could rise significantly.

State Rep. Rich Brauer was also at the picket and was pleased by the crowd and the media coverage. "The world is run by people who show up," he said. "The governor's actions are not acceptable. This (meaning the large crowd) shows other citizens that we are not going to stand for this injustice. These workers have had threats to their jobs before. That's why it is important for people to show up, to call the governor's office and say this is wrong. This could happen to them next. There are people here with 10, 20 years on the job."

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Bomke asked, with the potential cutbacks proposed, "How in the world will they run these prisons?"

Dale Ridgeway, a union representative at Lincoln Correctional, showed the senator a schedule of work hours for prison employees. An extra, full shift, called a mandate, was under almost every employee's name. "Some of our members have worked nine double shifts in just July," Ridgeway told the senator.

Bomke has broken ranks with his party, saying on several occasions that he would favor a temporary increase in the state's income tax to try to save jobs and avoid cuts to needed services.

Both Bomke and Brauer were asked if there is hope of preventing these devastating layoffs. Both believed there was, but it will take a combined effort of the legislature and the governor to do so.

In the meantime, Black summed up the general feelings of the rank and file: "Where does all of this end? Right now morale sucks. Many of our members are second generation with family roots in this county. These jobs need to stay. We need to stop being political pawns."


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