Thousands of union workers gathered across Illinois today to protest Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed budget cuts that include mass layoffs and the closure and consolidation of several state facilities, including prisons.
State employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employeesgathered outside the governor’s Chicago office and the executive mansion in Springfield, chanting and holding signs that read “No Quinn Cuts” and “Defend Human Services.” Some workers even took their message to far southern Harrisburg, where they helped with tornado clean up from this month’s deadly storm.
Edward Schwartz, a child protection worker for the Department of Children and Family Services, said Quinn’s proposed cuts would severely hamper his agency’s ability to do its job and put people at risk.
He questioned Quinn’s spending priorities, saying he signed a major tax increase to provide needed services but then gave large tax breaks to Chicago’s financial exchanges and Hoffman Estates-basedSears Holdings Corp.
“We’re already short-staffed,” said Schwartz, who lives in Rogers Park on the city’s Far North Side. “I am one of those people on the front line. And if we don’t have the staffing and resources that we need, it’s only a matter of time.”
Quinn has proposed sweeping cuts to deal with the state’s massive budget problems, saying he knows program reductions and closings are hard but sacrifices must be made.
A spokeswoman for Quinn's budget office said the cuts are needed because growing Medicaid and pension costs are "unsustainable" and "continue to squeeze all areas of the budget."
"The closures and consolidations proposed in the state budget are hard but necessary," spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said. "They impact every region in our state, but due to decades of fiscal mismanagement tough decisions need to be made to address the state’s budget challenges."
Workers say they already have agreed to furlough days and delayed raises, and many more have not receive scheduled pay increases after Quinn refused to pay them citing a lack of money. The union sued citing breach of contract, and the case is still in court.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Lydia Williams, who works with the Department of Human Rights. “He brags about creating jobs, and now you have a budget where you’re going to lay off 3,000 employees? Quinn, what are you thinking? What’s wrong with this picture?”
Quinn’s office and the union are currently in negotiations over a new worker contract that’s slated to go into effect on July 1. A spokesman said those talks are separate from budget negotiations, but acknowledged it’s an “awkward situation.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun