Saturday, September 01, 2012

Arbitrator: Prison closures violate union contract

By Jamey Dunn 

An arbitrator ruled today that Gov. Pat Quinn’s plans to close several state corrections facilities violates union contracts.

The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees sued earlier this month to block the closure of seven state facilities. Quinn had planned to shutter a super-maximum security prison near Tamms, a women’s prison in Dwight, adult transition centers in Decatur, Carbondale and Chicago and youth prisons in Joliet and Murphysboro. The union and the administration agreed to take the issue to an arbitrator.

Most of the facilities were scheduled to close August 31, but Quinn agreed to put a temporary hold on the closures while legal proceedings played out, and the Associated Press reported this week that Department of Corrections officials sent letters to employees telling them to continue reporting to work.

Arbitrator Steven Bierig wrote in his finding: “The state violated the contract when it moved to close Department of Corrections Facilities and Department of Juvenile Justice Facilities prior to the conclusion of impact bargaining with the Union. The matter is remanded to the parties to conclude bargaining prior to the closure of said Facilities. The parties are ordered to conclude impact bargaining within 30 days of the date of this Award, unless agreed upon otherwise.”

AFSCME, the state’s largest public employee union, and the Quinn administration are currently negotiating contracts because the union’s previous four-year contract expired in June. Both sides agreed to extend the terms of the previous contract and seek the assistance of a mediator for future negotiations.

Today's ruling move comes the day after Cook County Circuit Court Judge Richard Billik Jr. told Quinn to submit vouchers to the comptroller’s office for AFSCME pay raises, which are under dispute. The judge has yet to decide whether the state must pay the raises, but he ordered Quinn to set aside the money so it will be available if he rules in favor of the unions. Quinn refused to pay the raises, saying that the General Assembly did not include the money in last fiscal year’s budget.

“Today's decision is another important step forward," Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31 said in a written statement. "Gov. Quinn's reckless rush to close prisons despite the consequences has been halted for now, but our work to protect the public safety continues. There is no rationale for closing these facilities. They were fully funded by the legislature, which recognizes that closing them would destabilize the entire prison system, worsen dangerous overcrowding and put the safety of employees, inmates, youth and the public at risk. We urge Gov. Quinn to drop his push to close needed prisons, undermine communities and destroy good jobs.”

AFSCME has asked a judge to make the ruling binding and order the state to comply. However, the Quinn administration has filed an appeal and asked that the ruling be vacated. "As we work to move Illinois forward by closing tax payer funded facilities the state no longer needs that are empty, half full, outdated and expensive to operate--it is disappointing that progress to make Illinois a better place and to put its financial house in order continues to be halted," Kelly Kraft, a Quinn spokeswoman, said in a written statement. "We remain committed to our closure plans and are eager to resolve this matter as quickly as possible."

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