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Work-share benefit program proposal sent to governor

FactoryWorkerRSPRINGFIELD - A measure that would help Illinois businesses retain workers in difficult economic times passed both chambers of the General Assembly yesterday and has been sent to the governor for his approval.  

State Senator Melinda Bush is a co-sponsor of the “work-share” proposal, which allows the Illinois Department of Employment Security to offer partial benefits to employees when an employer cuts the hours of at least 10 percent of its staff and shares the remaining work among the affected employees. The partial benefit allowance will help offset the wage reductions and skilled employees will still be able to keep their jobs.

The state also saves money that would have otherwise been paid to laid-off workers drawing full benefits.

Sullivan, Hammond: Beardstown bridge construction update

mapsmallSPRINGFIELD – A recent Illinois Department of Transportation inspection discovered safety issues with the 60-year old U.S. 67 bridge over the Illinois River at Beardstown.

IDOT has restricted the bridge to a 15-ton weight limit and is detouring vehicles heavier than 15 tons north to Havana or south to Meredosia.

"This has created a very difficult situation for commuters that will have a negative economic impact—especially on many businesses and area farmers. Realizing this hardship, IDOT has taken aggressive action to fix the problem as soon as possible," State Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville) said.

"I commend the partnership between the Illinois Department of Transportation and the City of Beardstown for recognizing the urgency of this situation and their willingness to expedite this project for the safety of all motorist," Rep. Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) said.

"Our primary concern is the safety of the drivers who use this U.S. 67. We have a plan in place to address the immediate safety issues this winter, and our hope is to secure funding and begin long-term repairs in 2015," said Deputy Director, Region 4 Engineer Roger Driskell.

IDOT is proceeding with temporary repairs, which are tentatively scheduled to begin Dec 1. These repairs should be done within a month, weather permitting. IDOT will also be pursing an emergency contract for long term repairs, which should be completed this summer.

Once the emergency repairs are finished, the weight restriction will be lifted. Properly permitted vehicles with overweight loads will still need to use the detour routes.

Sullivan, Hammond and the department are requesting approval for emergency funding to speed up the process to complete permanent repairs. Drivers should expect the bridge to be under construction most of next year.

Until the long term repairs are completed, the department will continue to monitor the bridge and may have to re-instate the 15-ton load limit.

Mulroe's firefighter safety proposal passes Senate

mulroe-ff-manningThe role of firefighters in our communities has drastically changed over the last few decades. Firefighters are now considered our primary first responders. They are our EMTs during accidents, tragedies and times of crisis. They mitigate the challenges of natural disasters, hazardous materials incidents and even acts of terrorism.

That is why State Senator John G. Mulroe (D-10) passed a proposal out of the Senate today that will preserve the right of firefighters to negotiate safe staffing levels, also known as manning.

“This is an issue of safety, both for our firefighters and the residents who put their trust in these men and women every day,” Mulroe said. “Manning determines whether they go home at the end of their shift. Without proper levels of manning they put themselves and citizens at risk.”

The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act deems that wages, hours and conditions of employment are mandatory subjects of bargaining. There is no more important working condition in the fire protection service than the staffing level necessary to address emergencies in our community.

However, a 2011 Appellate Court decision paved the way for numerous lawsuits alleging that safe staffing is not a condition of employment and should not be subject to bargaining and arbitration.

Since that decision, the issue of manning and whether it should be considered mandatory or permissive has been litigated at all different levels and has cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees.

Mulroe’s proposal clarifies the intent of the law by stating that manning will continue to be a subject of negotiations for firefighters and, therefore, subject to arbitration if the parties fail to reach an agreement in the collective bargaining process.  The legislation does not increase manning levels or allow for manning levels to be inserted into contracts. Worries that this bill will increase manning levels are unfounded. In fact, an arbitrator has never ruled in favor of changing status quo in cases where manning was an issue.

“By settling this issue once and for all, we will reduce litigation costs and actually save taxpayers money,” Mulroe said.

Holmes stands up for firefighters

FirefightersRSPRINGFIELD – State Senator Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) spoke out in support of a measure that protects firefighters and has the potential to save taxpayer dollars.

“Despite false information circulating about this measure, Aurora already does this,” Holmes said.  “This legislation alters nothing, except for the potential to save taxpayer money. Cities that have hired an arbitrator have never experienced a manning increase for fire departments. In fact, by hiring an arbitrator, we can avoid costly litigation and ensure fire departments and municipalities can come to an agreement. ”

Before 2011, arbitrators had to hear the concerns of firefighters regarding the number of men assigned to a shift.