State officials call for probe of workers’ compensation claims – YahooLocal – bnd.com

In less than three years, nearly $10 million in state taxpayer-funds has been awarded in workers’ compensation payments to employees at the Menard Correctional Center where 389 guards and other workers — more than half the maximum security lockup’s entire staff — have claimed an on-the-job injury.

More than 500 claims, including a $75,678 payment to the prison’s warden in June, have been filed since Jan. 1, 2008. Approximately 290 cases are pending. More than 230 prison workers contend they were injured not because of an accident but through repetitive trauma caused over years mainly by operating manual cell locking mechanisms. Carpal tunnel syndrome can result from repetitive trauma.

After learning the results of a News-Democrat investigation that revealed these figures, Mitch Weisz, chairman of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, said Wednesday he has called for an official investigation of the Menard claims by the state’s Department of Insurance and has contacted the agency’s Director Michael McRaith.

Read the full article here: State officials call for probe of workers’ compensation claims – YahooLocal – bnd.com.

Quinn floats $15B borrowing plan to pay bills – Chicago Breaking News

As the state’s stack of unpaid bills grows, Gov. Pat Quinn is floating the idea of borrowing roughly $15 billion to alleviate the pressure, though taxpayers would be saddled with loan payments for years.

The governor has approached several lawmakers with a plan he’s dubbed a “debt bond.” While the name is somewhat redundant, the thinking is the state can pay back what it owes and plug its big budget hole — if only for a year.

Supporters say the outsize loan would provide instant cash to schools, doctors and social welfare agencies that have laid off workers and cut services as they await long-overdue payments.

They also argue the approach will prove cheaper for the state in the long run because Illinois will pay less in interest through Wall Street than it’s now paying to providers as a penalty for falling behind. Those the state owes now get 1 to 2 percent in interest for each month payments are late after the first 60 days.

“That sounds like a lot of money to borrow, but we already owe that money,” said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie. “So I don’t think people should get too hot and bothered to borrow the money to pay the people we owe. As long as we have a revenue stream to pay it back, it sounds like a good policy to me.”

The most conventional source of money to repay the loan — an income tax increase — is also the most controversial. House Speaker Michael Madigan has been polling his Democrats on a variety of tax-hike options to gauge which might have a chance of passing. The scenarios include theoretical tax increases that would be billed as temporary or permanent and range from 1 to 2 percentage points.

But nothing’s been decided on, and there’s no critical mass yet for any particular plan. Both the size of a tax increase and how much the state could borrow remain moving targets.

Read the full article here: Quinn floats $15B borrowing plan to pay bills – Chicago Breaking News.

“TABOR”: Code for a chokehold on vital public services – AFSCME Council 31

VIEW OR DOWNLOAD THIS FACT SHEET IN PDF FORMAT.

House Joint Resolution–Constitutional Amendment 60 is a radical measure, unprecedented in Illinois. It would change the State Constitution to:

* Permanently limit the amount of general funds appropriations and transfers to the previous year’s level, adjusted upwards or downwards by changes in per capita income.

* Require that any waiver of this spending limit obtain the agreement of the Governor, Comptroller, Treasurer and 3/5ths of the General Assembly.

HJRCA 60 would:

* Lock in spending at artificially low levels and not adjust sufficiently for population growth and increased costs in providing vital state services.

* Crowd out spending on everything other than big-ticket items whose costs are rising faster than inflation, forcing ever-deeper annual cuts in services.

* Force municipalities to substantially increase local property taxes.

* Make education funding reform impossible.

* Unwisely hamstring efforts to maximize federal aid.

Colorado passed a similar spending limitation (“TABOR”) in 1992. By 2005:

* Colorado plummeted from 35th to 49th nationally in K-12 education funding.

* Higher education funding per student decreased by 31% in real dollars.

* The percentage of low-income children without health insurance had doubled to 32%.

Read the full article here: “TABOR”: Code for a chokehold on vital public services – AFSCME Council 31.

The facts about Big Business cuts to workers’ compensation – AFSCME Council 31

VIEW OR DOWNLOAD THIS FACT SHEET IN PDF FORMAT

BACKGROUND: Workers’ Compensation Law

Illinois workers’ compensation law provides the sole remedy for workers who are injured on the job. The law is a historic compromise between business and labor interests in which workers surrender their right to pursue legal remedies in civil court for injuries that could result in punitive damage awards—running to the millions of dollars—where employer negligence can be shown. In return, workers are supposedly guaranteed timely payment of awards limited to coverage of medical bills and wage replacement for any job-related injury or illness.

Read the full article here: The facts about Big Business cuts to workers’ compensation – AFSCME Council 31.

AFSCME – AFSCME Response to One-Sided 60 Minutes Report on State and Local Budgets

Last night on 60 Minutes, Steve Kroft’s segment correctly noted that many of our state and local governments are struggling to close looming budget gaps. But his one-sided report failed to identify the root causes of this crisis, or barely recognize the sacrifices that public employees have made to help to address these deficits since our financial system nearly collapsed more than two years ago. During these difficult times, public employees have helped bring budgets back into balance by sacrificing pay and benefits. However, the 60 Minutes report relied too heavily on testimony by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie which falsely blamed public employees and unions for the fiscal challenges that have arisen because of the irresponsible behavior of Wall Street and Christie’s predecessors.

Gerald W. McEntee, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees AFSCME, had this to say:

“Chris Christie is more interested in scoring political points than solving state and local budget challenges and getting the economy moving. The fact is, hundreds of thousands of public employees, just like private sector employees, have been laid off and taken pay and benefit cuts – even as Wall Street executives lined their pockets with taxpayer money and took home huge bonuses. And as Steve Kroft’s report noted, much of the pension problem stems from the fact that politicians did not contribute to their pension funds.

Read the full article here: AFSCME – AFSCME Response to One-Sided 60 Minutes Report on State and Local Budgets.

Clout St: No bids at Thomson prison auction

The state’s effort to sell the Thomson Correctional Center hit a snag Tuesday when no one showed up to bid on the prison located along the Illinois-Iowa border.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons was expected to bid on the facility, but sent a letter saying it could not participate in the auction because of a conflict between state and federal law regarding the sale and purchase of the property.

The agency said it was still “very interested” in buying the prison, but still needed to come up with the necessary funds. By law the state could not sell the prison for less than its appraised value of $219.9 million.

Bureau spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said federal law does not allow for the agency to purchase property through an auction, though state law required the facility to be sold in such a manner. Further, she said Congress has not yet approved funding to buy the prison. A spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said the state is “identifying and reviewing our options,” but is committed to completing the sale as “soon as possible.”

via Clout St: No bids at Thomson prison auction.

Union irked after prison not sold

What’s next for the Thomson Correctional Center?

No one bought the state prison at an auction Tuesday.

That’s good news to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which wants to purchase the facility.

That’s bad news to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — the state’s largest public employee union — which thinks transferring ownership to a federal entity would be a mistake.

A union official noted that the Illinois Department of Corrections said in October that its prison system was operating at 148 percent of its designed capacity.

“That kind of overcrowding greatly increases inmate tensions and the potential for violence,” said Henry Bayer, AFSCME’s executive director, in a prepared statement.

Bayer said the Illinois prison population has increased by 3,000 in the past few months and added that it does not make sense to sell the center at a time when the system is experiencing that kind of growth.

Read the full article here: TH – Local News Article.

Pension reform to get fresh look in the 2011 « KMOX-AM

Another attempt at “pension reform” in Illinois is possible when the General Assembly is back in Springfield next month.

This time, under a House Republican-backed plan, current public employees would see changes in the way they earn future benefits. The proposal, crafted by the Commercial Club of Chicago, would include workers being given a choice of future pension contributions to include the current plan but at a higher cost; and a 401k-style plan.

Not surprisingly, there’s disagreement. Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees AFSCME Council 31, says the idea is unconstitutional and that the plan’s supporters would just as soon let the courts sort it out. Lindall says there’s not time for that.

via Pension reform to get fresh look in the 2011 « KMOX-AM.

Revised AFSCME pay raise schedule

Jan. 1: 1 percent

June 1: 2 percent

July 1: 2 percent

Jan. 1, 2012: 1.25 percent

Feb. 1, 2012: 2 percent

via AFSCME agrees to defer half of July 1 raises due state workers – Springfield, IL – The State Journal-Register.

State averts inmate underwear shortage

SPRINGFIELD — State prison officials have averted a potential crisis behind bars: A shortage of undies for inmates.

As part of a supply problem rooted in a global surge in cotton prices, the company hired to supply the material for boxer shorts worn by prisoners refused to deliver because it couldn’t make money on its contract.

Facing the prospect of having inmates with no skivvies, state officials this week hired another company to supply the cloth. The new contract is worth $183,800, which is an estimated $50,000 more than what the state had originally planned to spend, according to documents.

An official at the Florida-based company that pulled out of its contract says Illinois isn’t alone.

Robin Resnick, vice president of sales for J, Weinstein & Sons, said the firm has told other states where it does business that the rapid rise in cotton prices means they won’t deliver at prices agreed to in previous years.

Read the full article here: State averts inmate underwear shortage.