Monday, October 03, 2011

Arbitrator: Closure plan violates agreement with unions

By Jamey Dunn

The same arbitrator who ruled that Gov. Pat Quinn owes state employees the raises he has refused to pay, found today that if Quinn moves forward with his plan to close state facilities, Illinois may end up owing some state employees even more.

Arbitrator Edwin Benn’s ruling issued today said Quinn must stick to the deal he made with a public employee union. Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had agreed to cost saving measures that included a reduction in the raises in their contracts in exchange for a promise of no facility closures or layoffs. Benn said if the state does not hold up its end of the deal, it would be required to pay back wages and medical costs for employees who are put out of work by Quinn’s plan. “No employees represented by the Union can be laid off through June 30, 2012; the seven mental health and correctional facilities targeted for closure cannot be closed prior to July 1, 2012; and if any employees represented by the Union are laid off, bumped or transferred as a result of layoffs and facility closures involved in this matter prior to July 1, 2012, those employees shall be reinstated and returned to their former positions and made whole in all respects for their losses flowing from the State’s violation of its contractual promises to not lay off employees and to not close facilities prior to July 1, 2012,” the ruling stated.

Benn said the state would also be on the hook for damages paid to employees who went through certain hardships as a result of a layoff. “If as a result of the state’s violation of the cost savings agreements, adversely impacted employees are put in a position of not being able to make timely payments on their homes or cars and are foreclosed upon or evicted or otherwise forced to move from their residences, as part of the make whole relief, the state shall compensate the employees for those losses.”

Union officials said Quinn should halt his plans and avoid the risk of having to pay costly settlements to workers. “This order is unequivocal. Governor Quinn should rescind all threatened layoffs and closures,” Henry Bayer, AFSCME Council 31 executive director, said in a written statement. “Failure to do so will not only harm the vital public services state employees provide, it will expose the state to significant damages for lost wages, benefits and other costs incurred as a result of the governor’s irresponsible actions.”

The ruling included a timeline for the planned layoffs and facility closures, as well as the number of union employees that would be affected:
  • Tinley Park — Closure date: November 30, 2011; union layoffs: 143 
  • Singer Mental Health Center (Rockford) — Closure date: Dec. 31, 2011; union layoffs: 122 
  • Illinois Youth Center (Murphysboro) — Closure date: December 31, 2011; union layoffs: 97
  • Logan Correctional Center (Lincoln) — Closure date: December 31, 2011; union layoffs: 324 Chester Mental Health Center — Closure date: March 31, 2012; Union layoffs: 419 
  • Jacksonville Developmental Center — Closure date: February 29, 2012; union layoffs: 390 
  • Jack Mabley Developmental Center (Dixon) — Closure date: February 29, 2012; union layoffs: 162 
 Under Quinn’s plan, the Department of Human rights would also lay off 23 employees starting on November 1, 2011. According to the ruling, 288 nonunion employees would receive pink slips under the plan.

The arbitrator noted that laid off workers would face a tough jobs climate due to high unemployment rates — which range from 7.8 percent in Jackson County, where the Illinois Youth Center is located, to 13 percent in Winnebago County, home to the Singer Mental Health Center. “Employees who gave concessions to ease the state’s financial difficulties, and in return were promised by the state that they had job security and would not be laid off through June 30, 2012 will, because of the state’s violation of its promises, be thrown into an economy with little chance of finding comparable employment.” Anders Lindall, spokesperson for AFSCME Council 31, said elected officials should avoid creating more jobless Illinoisans. He points to recent incentives Quinn has offered corporations such as Motorola to keep jobs in the state. “If you imagine a plant closure or a business or corporation threatening to leave the state and take 2,000 jobs with them, you would hope that the governor and every other elected official would be there to save those jobs,”  Lindall said. “But what we are facing right now is just that situation — state government threatening to throw 2,000 women and men out of work across the state.”

Quinn, who has previously defended the no layoffs deal with AFSCME, has said he has no other options based on the budget that lawmakers approved. He said that under that budget, if he does not skip pay raises, close the facilities and institute layoffs, the state will run out of money before the end of the current fiscal year. “[Lawmakers who approved the budget] knew exactly what they were doing. They knew there would not be enough money to maintain our facilities for the whole fiscal year or maintain our workforce for the whole fiscal year,” Quinn said when he announced the closures. According to the governor, his budget proposal, which called for billions more in spending than the plan he signed, included funding to avoid layoffs and institute pay raises. “This ruling does not change the fact that the money to run all these facilities for the entire year was not appropriated by the General Assembly. You can’t spend money you don’t have,” said a statement issued by Quinn’s office today.

Benn said Quinn’s argument is outside of his realm of consideration. “The statutory, Constitutional and other non-contract arguments raised by the state in which the state seeks to avoid its contractual obligations are not for me as an arbitrator to decide. My function is to interpret the state’s contractual obligations, and those obligations are clear and have been violated. The state’s statutory, Constitutional and other non-contractual arguments are to be resolved by the courts.” Benn predicted a lawsuit and urged any judges who take up the case to decide it quickly, given the state’s timeline for facility closures.

“Arbitrator Benn concedes that he does not have jurisdiction over the Illinois Constitution and statutes that apply to this issue, and both the Constitution and statutes remain to be addressed by the courts. We will seek to stay and vacate the decision while we continue to manage the budget so that core services the people of Illinois depend upon can be provided for the entire year,” said Quinn’s statement.

Hearings on the facility closures begin this week

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