COGFA says no to 4 – Lincoln, IL – Lincoln Courier

The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), a bipartisan legislative panel that held a hearing Wednesday night on the potential closure of Logan Correctional Center, has rejected Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to close three social-service facilities and one youth prison.

In early September, Quinn proposed closing seven state facilities, including Logan Correctional Center, in order to save the state money. An arbitrator ruled earlier this month that the closures, as well as the layoffs associated with them, would violate a labor agreement that states Quinn cannot lay off employees or close facilities before July 2010 in exchange for $400 million in concessions and cost savings.

On Thursday, COFGA voted against closing four of the seven facilities — Murphysboro Youth Center, Mabley Developmental Center in Dixon, Chester Mental Health Center and Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford — but the vote is advisory only. Votes on Logan Correctional Center and Jacksonville Developmental Center have not been made by the commission yet, and the COGFA hearing for Tinley Mental Health Center has not yet occurred.

While COGFA acknowledges its vote is advisory, Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, who co-chaired the COGFA hearing for Logan Correctional on Wednesday, said the commission’s opinions have been listened to before.

“We (COGFA) voted to keep Pontiac (Correctional Center) open, and it was kept open,” Schoenberg said.

“I hope (COFGA) keeps its perfect record,” Henry Bayer, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, said.

According to a news release emailed by Anders Lindall, an AFSCME Council 31 spokesman, COFGA members rejected the closure of Mabley Developmental Center in Dixon by a vote of 8-3, the Murphysboro Youth Center by a vote of 7-4, the Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford by a vote of 8-3 and Chester Mental Health Center by a vote of 11-0.

Read more here: COGFA says no to 4 – Lincoln, IL – Lincoln Courier.

Private prison industry grows despite critics – TODAY News – TODAY.com

The Idaho Correctional Center—the ICC — was so violent that employees and inmates had a name for the place: Gladiator School.

“That was because of the assaults,” said Todd Goertzen, a former corrections counselor at the prison. “That’s why they called it Gladiator School, because of that reason. If you’re going to ICC, it’s going to be fight or die, basically.”

This is the story of a dangerous business: the billions of dollars that flow into the American prison industry and the companies that profit from it.

No nation on the planet holds more of its people behind bars: 2.3 million prisoners—as many as China and Russia combined. The nation’s prisons employ nearly 800,000 workers, more than the auto manufacturing industry.

But a problem for some is an opportunity for others.

Private prison companies are picking up the slack. The more inmates or detainees they house, the more money they make.

Private companies hold about 130,000 people, or 8 percent of American inmates. That’s nearly double the number from 10 years ago.

But private prisons have attracted legions of critics — some from organized labor, since most private prisons, unlike their public counterparts, are non-union. Others oppose the very idea of private prisons, perhaps no one more vocally than Alex Friedmann, a writer and an editor of Prison Legal News, which has been covering corrections for more than 20 years.

“Literally, you can put a dollar figure on each inmate that is held at a private prison,” he said. “They are treated as commodities. And that’s very dangerous and troubling when a company sees the people it incarcerates as nothing more than a money stream.”

Dangerous situations
Friedmann, who has testified at public hearings, knows prisons — inside and out. He served 10 years for armed robbery, more than half his sentence in a CCA prison.

“In the private prison, you would have fewer guards, for example,” he said. “You would have guards that are less experienced, who are paid less, who get fewer benefits. We constantly had new trainees coming through because their staff turnover rate was very high, which leads to more dangerous situations.”

One of those dangerous situations was caught on a security camera at the Idaho Correctional Center, a private prison operated by CCA.

In November 2010, inmate Hanni Elabed was beaten to within an inch of his life. The assailant even had time to take a breather before launching into his attack again. Eight minutes went by before guards intervened.

The incident left Elabed permanently brain-damaged. He sued CCA, alleging among other things inadequate staffing, a charge CCA has a denied. The case was eventually settled, but the terms weren’t disclosed.

Goertzen, the former corrections counselor, was not involved in the Elabed incident. But Goertzen said he witnessed dozens like it during his two years at the prison. He and several other CCA employees CNBC spoke to said inadequate staffing was one of the problems at the Idaho prison.

“I constantly asked, all the time, ‘Do we have any extra staff?’” he said. “It was terrible. You could do the job. But you couldn’t do it safely.”

The American Civil Liberties Union sued CCA in 2010, claiming violence at the Idaho prison was “epidemic.” That year the Idaho Correctional Center had more assaults than the state’s eight other prisons combined.

Goertzen was fired from the ICC for missing too many days of work, the result of what he acknowledges was a drinking problem. He gave a deposition in the ACLU lawsuit. In a sworn statement, Goertzen said: “It is clear to me that ICC was more interested in making a profit than reducing prisoner violence, in finding out which officers were breaking the rules, or in protecting the safety of the staff and prisoners.”

“It was about the money,” he told CNBC. “I mean, whatever they could do to keep those beds filled. Because if the beds were empty, you’re not making any money. And it costs so much money to hire a staff member.”

CCA eventually settled the ACLU lawsuit. Without admitting wrongdoing, the company agreed to hire more staff, meet state training standards and investigate every assault.

Critics say the Idaho case illustrates widespread problems with private prisons. They point to national studies from the Justice Department and federal Bureau of Prisons from 2001 that found private prisons had assault rates 65 percent higher than public ones and “systemic problems” maintaining security. But conclusive, current evidence is hard to come by.

Read the full article here: Private prison industry grows despite critics – TODAY News – TODAY.com.

AFSCME | AFSCME Launches New Ad Supporting American Jobs Act

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO (AFSCME) today announced that a television ad, titled “Podium,” will begin airing in congressional districts across the country. The 30-second spot is the second advertisement in support of enactment of a robust jobs plan. The ad urges residents to call their members of Congress and tell them to pass the American Jobs Act.

“Despite this week’s vote in the Senate, millions of Americans are still out of work, the middle class is still under attack, and the corporate-backed politicians don’t have a plan to create jobs,” stated AFSCME Pres. Gerald W. McEntee. “Americans are reclaiming their voice in a Main Street Movement that spans from Madison to Columbus to New York to cities across the nation. Washington can help them by passing the American Jobs Act now.”

“Podium” will begin airing Oct. 13, in 8 states and 10 media markets across the country. A separate radio advertisement will also run in select states. “What if middle-class families were finally given the podium so that politicians finally listen to us instead of fighting for millionaires and corporations,” opens the ad while, “We all need to tell Congress to pass the American Jobs Act Now,” is the tag line at the conclusion.

“This country is in the throes of one of the worst financial crises in this country’s history while corporate-backed politicians, including Republican leaders in Congress, play partisan politics while letting the working middle class suffer. This Main Street Movement will keep marching until Americans are put back to work,” stated AFSCME Sec.–Treas. Lee Saunders.

via AFSCME | AFSCME Launches New Ad Supporting American Jobs Act.

AFSCME | Energized for the Fight

By Sec.-Treas. Lee A. Saunders

Since the attacks on AFSCME members began, I’ve traveled coast to coast to stand with the social workers, corrections officers, nurses and school bus drivers of our union. I’ve seen us respond with energy, determination and, above all, the optimism that comes from believing that together, we can win.

We understand how difficult these battles are. Yet even in the face of the short-term defeats that have come our way, we have been resilient. Our sisters’ and brothers’ strength has inspired not just members of our union, and not just other labor movement activists, but also workers throughout our nation who, until now, have felt ignored and demoralized.

Concern About the Future

Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve seen members of our AFSCME family get angry — but anger has stoked activism and made us want to fight back. It also inspired members to get their friends and neighbors involved and to bring other activists and organizations onto the frontlines. We’ve built strong coalitions in every place we’re under attack, because people now understand that it’s not just union members or workers in state and local governments whose security is threatened; the American dream itself is at risk.

I was in New York City this past spring to protest the mayor’s drastic proposal for child care cuts. During the rally, a District Council 1707 member said to me, “This is not about our jobs. This is about what happens to these children. If we don’t take care of our kids, what does that say about us?” It was a simple statement — but it spoke volumes about this sister’s concern for the future.

Outpouring of Support

When I was in Madison, Wis., I was astounded by the outpouring of support for our members, who are the backbone of every community. Union members, of course, came out in droves — including police officers and firefighters who were exempted from the worst parts of the governor’s anti-union law, but stood with us nonetheless. Even more remarkable, however, were the students, retirees, farmers and environmentalists who joined us.

In this tough year, AFSCME has actually grown stronger. These fights focused us on what we do well, and what we can do better. For instance, we have partnered with affiliates, not only sending financial help, but developing plans of action and committing other resources to help execute those plans.

Here are a few other examples:

We’ve also created new tools, such as legislative hotlines through which AFSCME members placed nearly 100,000 calls.

We invested in an aggressive Facebook campaign to defeat a paycheck deception bill. More than 850,000 people saw the campaign, and whether they were Democrats, Republicans or Independents, many of them liked what we had to say.

Through the new Faces and Voices program, rank-and-file members are trained as spokespersons, using their personal stories and facts from their home states to speak up for public services and workers’ rights. Paul Brewer, a Council 79 member, said the training helped him get a letter-to-the-editor published and deliver a clear, succinct message in a television interview.

Pull Together

There’s no doubt these are challenging times. And it looks as though things will not get easier anytime soon. But in these kinds of times, you face a choice: Hope that the same old tactics will result in victory, or pull together and fight back with new energy and new strategies. Our union has made the right decision.

via AFSCME | Energized for the Fight.

AFSCME | No Link Between State Budget Deficits and Public Sector Unions

by Jon Melegrito | October 13, 2011

There is no link between state budget deficits and public sector unions. That’s the definitive finding of a study (PDF) released this week by the University of California, Berkeley.

Commenting on the report from the university’s Center for Labor Research and Education and Center for Wage and Employment Dynamics, the Economic Policy Institute correctly points out that it’s the recession and housing bubble that caused state budget deficits, not public sector workers or their unions.

Titled “The Wrong Target: Public Sector Unions and State Budget Deficits,” the 12-page study demolishes one of the myths that too many right-wing politicians and propagandists cling to: That public service employees are to blame for the problems facing state governments. (Ezra Klein’s excellent piece on WashingtonPost.com last year made a powerful argument that the problems facing state governments are because of the failure of Wall Street and the horrible economy.)

This latest report – which was based on the authors’ analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Federal Housing Finance Agency – clearly refutes myths about the role public sector unions play in the current state budget crisis. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) used this exact bogus claim to justify stripping public service workers of collective bargaining rights. Walker later admitted that his so-called budget repair bill had nothing to do with balancing the state’s budget.

As Klein aptly puts it in a Washington Post piece, Unions Aren’t to Blame for Wisconsin’s Budget: “Blame the banks. Blame global capital flows. Blame lax regulation of Wall Street. Blame home buyers, or home sellers. But don’t blame the unions. Not for this recession.”

via AFSCME | No Link Between State Budget Deficits and Public Sector Unions.

News and legislative update for state employees

Yesterday’s rally in the State Capitol rotunda was a big success by every measure. We had great turnout, with more than 3,000 in attendance, and a great coalition, including teachers, firefighters, police officers and other groups that joined AFSCME members in the critical fight to defend collective bargaining and preserve our pensions. Visit the AFSCME Council 31 website for photos and more.

There was more good news this morning when the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) took its advisory votes on four of Governor Quinn’s scheduled facility closures (Singer MHC, Murphysboro IYC, Chester MHC and Mabley DC). The commission recommended against closing all four! Votes on the other closures (Logan CC, Jacksonville DC and Tinley Park MHC) will likely occur during the second week of veto session.

There is some good news on the legal front as well. On Monday, a Cook County Circuit Court judge refused to grant the Quinn Administration’s motion to stay the arbitrator’s ruling halting the planned closures and layoffs. Now the union’s motion to compel compliance with the arbitrator’s decision can proceed. And yesterday the state agreed to put on hold layoffs scheduled for this week pending a Nov. 7 ruling by a Randolph County Circuit Court judge on the union’s request for a temporary restraining order to halt the closures and layoffs.

But we’ve still got a long way to go in the battle to restore the integrity of our contract, ensure payment of negotiated wage increases, and prevent thousands of layoffs.

A significant indicator of how tough that battle will be is HJR 45, a resolution introduced in the General Assembly yesterday and sponsored by Speaker Michael Madigan. This measure would attempt to cap wage increases in upcoming contract negotiations and bar any agreement restricting layoffs.

Another red flag went up yesterday when House Minority Leader Tom Cross claimed there is an agreement between Democrats and Republicans to pass SB 512, the pension-slashing legislation, during the second week of veto session.

And, of course, there is the continuing challenge of persuading legislators to pass the supplemental appropriation needed to fund pay raises and prevent facility closures and layoffs.

So we’ve got to keep the heat on. Legislators will be back in their districts next week, before the veto session resumes November 8.

Call your legislators.
Tell them to OPPOSE SB 512, which would drastically increase pension contributions or slash benefits; to OPPOSE HJR 45, which would restrict collective bargaining rights; and to urge their leadership to support a supplemental appropriation to honor the union contract.

You can call toll-free on the AFSCME hotline at 888-912-5959, or click here to enter your phone number and be automatically connected.

These are very tough times for public employees. You’re out there doing your job every single day, often under very difficult circumstances. But politicians have decided to try to scapegoat state workers for all of the state’s problems—many of which they created themselves.

It’s critical that we continue to do our best to provide vital state services, and to maintain public confidence and trust. And it’s also vital that we keep coming together as we did yesterday to make our voices heard. We can’t let them demoralize or intimidate us. We need to stand together and stand strong in these tough times.

Henry Bayer
Executive Director
AFSCME Council 31

Daily Chronicle | Broken Benefits: Public vs. private explored

This is an excerpt from a somewhat lengthy article from the Dekalb Daily Chronicle. As always, the link at the bottom will take you the the full story. It’s worth a read.

…The report found public workers make 43 percent more in total compensation than their private-sector colleagues – a relationship found in most states, though not always at the same percentage, Biggs said.

In Illinois, Biggs said public-sector workers make about 5.8 percent less in salary than comparable private-sector employees.

Biggs said public employees often will make 2-3 percent less in salary compared to private-sector counterparts, but benefits, including retirement, plus the much higher job security, exceed private-sector compensation.

“If you take someone who earns the same wage and run the earnings through public pensions and the private sector, the public employee benefits are much, much higher,” Biggs said.

But not every public employee rakes in a monthly pension of $11,000. The retirees not receiving pensions that high are who Cathy Hill, president of the DeKalb County Retired Teachers Association, is concerned will be hurt the most in the backlash against the pension system.

Proponents of public employees say the focus of pension reformers is often on those making the highest pensions or those who have used loopholes to boost their monthly amount.

The Illinois Taxpayer Education Foundation, for instance, issued a list in April of the top-100 government pensions in the state. Those retirees earned anywhere from $16,250 a month to $34,539.24 a month. In all, the list said 5,294 government retirees in Illinois receive annual pensions greater than $100,000.

But Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME Council 31, said the average annual pension for members in all of the state’s public pension systems is $32,000, and 80 percent does not receive Social Security benefits. AFSCME represents 100,000 active and retired public employees in the state.

Information the Daily Chronicle received through FOIA requests to the statewide pension funds – which includes the systems for teachers, university employees, municipal employees, judges and other state employees – found that of the 3,361 people who have worked at a public agency in DeKalb County and have retired since 2000, 54.33 percent of them – or 1,826 – receive a pension of $32,000 or less annually

Read the full article here:  Daily Chronicle | Broken Benefits: Public vs. private explored.

Lincoln residents pack state hearing to oppose prison closing – WJBC – The Voice of Central Illinois

Lawmakers faced a sea of red “Save Logan” T-shirts Wednesday as community leaders told a state commission that closing a Lincoln prison would be a “death penalty” for a city that’s only now recovering from another facility closure a decade ago.

Hundreds turned out for the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, or COGFA, closure hearing, held at a Lincoln Christian University auditorium.

Gov. Pat Quinn says he needs to close the 2,000-inmate Logan Correctional and six other state facilities because the budget passed by lawmakers did not appropriate enough money. He says that if his $370 million in vetoes are upheld during the fall veto session and that money is reallocated, the facilities would be spared.

But it was the worst-case scenario on the minds of Lincoln residents Wednesday.

Donna Boyd, whose husband Rodney is one of 356 employees at Logan, said her family has been reeling since the potential closure was announced last month. She said that if Rodney isn’t able to find another nearby placement within the Illinois Department of Corrections, he’d have to find other work – and that would strain their household budget. (There are 660 vacancies that employees could fill in the IDOC system, but only 193 within 90 miles of Lincoln.)

Boyd said she had an emotional discussion with the owner of a Lincoln dance studio where her 7-year-old daughter, Emma, takes four dance classes. Dance and gymnastics are Emma’s only activities, Boyd said, but that could end if the family’s budget is tightened.

“We actually have had to have a conversation with (Emma) about, ‘What do you enjoy the most?’ and ‘If we have to say goodbye to something, what would it be?’” Boyd said. “That’s sad, that’s hard, that’s what she loves. She doesn’t understand why she might have to make those decisions.”

Lincoln officials stressed Wednesday that they’re only now recovering from former Gov. George Ryan’s closure of Lincoln Developmental Center in 2002. Andi Hake with the Lincoln Logan Chamber of Commerce said organizers have collected about 9,000 signatures opposing the Logan closure. Lincoln has about 14,500 residents.

Lincoln Mayor Keith Snyder told the commission that the $9 million in net annual savings estimated by the Logan closure doesn’t make sense when compared to the $73 million in anticipated lost local economic output – an estimate provided in a COGFA report. The prison also generates $27 million in income and $1.2 million in state sales and income tax revenue.

“The people of this community get the need to make sacrifices,” Snyder said. “But they don’t get why someone thinks it’s a fair sacrifice that to save $1, it has to cost them $8.”

Illinois prison system

Sal Godinez, Illinois Department of Corrections director, told the commission he doesn’t want to close Logan but that it’s a necessity. He said Logan was chosen, in part, because there is a second prison in Lincoln; eight facilities within 90 miles; the medium-security population is easier to relocate; and the dorm-style living translates best to the gymnasiums where inmates will be held at other facilities.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which represents prison workers, has raised concerns about transferring Logan’s inmates to “already overcrowded prisons in a system now at 146 percent of capacity.” AFSCME also says Logan is one of DOC’s more efficient prisons, with annual costs averaging $17,000 per inmate, below the statewide average of $22,000.

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, challenged Godinez’s assertion that the prisoner relocation plan wouldn’t present public safety concerns.

“If they’re so safe to operate, why don’t we house all the inmates in beds in gymnasiums? I mean, it doesn’t make sense that this doesn’t incrementally put the Corrections officers, who work so hard for this state, as well as inmates, at additional risk,” Brady said.

Shannon Kelly, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2073, said the closure will ultimately cost the state more than keeping Logan open.

“Closing Logan Correctional Center is giving Lincoln, Ill., and Logan County the death penalty,” said Kelly. “The death penalty is not allowed in Illinois. We’re not gonna stand for that to happen.”

via Lincoln residents pack state hearing to oppose prison closing – WJBC – The Voice of Central Illinois.

Labor, casinos to dominate Illinois veto session | WBEZ

Fearing further setbacks to their negotiated contracts, members of organized labor are heading into the fall veto session this week with raised fists..

Workers representing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees who didn’t get promised pay raises in July are staging a demonstration Wednesday inside the Capitol.

They’re facing a quadruple whammy from Quinn and the legislature. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would require unionized workers to pay more into their retirement accounts and require retired employees to pay more for health insurance—coverage they now receive at little or no cost. The General Assembly also didn’t authorize enough spending in May to honor pay raises that were supposed to start in July, followed by two more pay increases in January and February. And state employees face the possible closure of seven state facilities, which could mean major job losses.

The grim forecast is giving AFSCME a widened vocabulary lately when describing Quinn, whom the group supported during his re-election campaign last year. Quinn won AFSCME’s endorsement after he promised he would not lay off state workers or close state buildings.

But after months of demonstrations in neighboring Wisconsin, Illinois’ labor movement finds itself in a similar face-off, regularly comparing Quinn to Gov. Scott Walker, who signed a bill in March stripping Wisconsin public employees of certain collective bargaining rights as a way to balance that state’s budget. Quinn faces $3 billion in unpaid bills and a dangerously under-funded pension system.

“We don’t give an inch to Quinn’s legal argument that he should be able to void collective bargaining agreements now or anytime in the future, just because he finds it inconvenient or the General Assembly didn’t do its job,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME Council 31.

Lindall said his organization will lobby lawmakers during the veto session for a supplemental appropriation of about $300 million to keep the facilities open that Quinn announced last month he would shutter. Three mental health centers—Singer in Rockford, Chester in southern Illinois and Tinley Park Mental Health Center—are slated for closure, along with a youth prison in Murphysboro, Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, and two centers for the developmentally disabled in Jacksonville and Jack Mabley in Dixon

Read the full story here: Labor, casinos to dominate Illinois veto session | WBEZ.

Financial woes pose problems for IDOC

The Illinois Department of Corrections insists its failure to pay its bills on time isn’t creating any safety concerns inside state prisons. But documents show one department executive warned of “a big problem looming” if a food supplier halted deliveries.

“I am fearful at some locations we won’t be able to meet the food needs of the population. To an inmate, food is the most important part of the day so this obviously would create huge security concerns,” Bryan Gleckler, the department’s chief financial officer, wrote in a June letter that was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The state soon coughed up part of the $2.5 million it owed the supplier, MJ Kellner, and Gleckler now plays down the safety concerns. He said the department tries to keep enough food on hand to keep providing meals even if deliveries are cut off.

“As long as I’ve been here, we haven’t run out of food,” Gleckler said in an interview. “… For the most part right now, we’re having no issues that I’m aware of with food suppliers.”

Nevertheless, the prisons system has not escaped problems stemming from the state’s chronically late payment of its bills, and in some cases it has had to rely on longstanding relationships with vendors to weather the delays.

John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association, said the prison watchdog group has seen problems with vendors providing clothing, toothpaste and pesticides. Food is particularly important, he said, but it’s just one of several items where interruptions could dial up tensions behind bars.

“That’s just another thing to stress out an already overcrowded and stressed population,” Maki said.

As of Sept. 8, the state comptroller had $39.3 million worth of bills to the Corrections Department that were at least a month old. Some dated back to November of last year.

That is just one slice of what the state was overdue in paying. As of early last month, the state owed on 166,000 unpaid bills worth $5 billion, with nearly half of that amount more than a month overdue, according to an Associated Press analysis of state documents. The late payments have become a regular part of the state’s budget management, creating a cycle of hardship for residents and businesses helping the state carry out some of its most important tasks.

Read the full article here: Financial woes pose problems for IDOC.