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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

October 9, 2018

Oct. 6, 2018

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

State workers suffer with step-increase delays

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the little guy is the one caught in the middle of a fight.

For this fight, we have on one side the administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner and on the other the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. At issue are step increases, the automatic raises given to state employees during the first seven to 10 years of their careers.

Except those raises haven’t been given to AFSCME employees for more than three years now. And while the two aforementioned sides duke it out in court, there, in the middle, are the state employees who keep the state government operating. They are the ones who have put off making big purchases or struggled to pay bills while the various challenges wind themselves through the often-glacial paced legal process.

Step increases have not been awarded since the last contract between the state and AFSCME expired in June 2015. AFSCME contends a ruling by the Illinois Labor Relations Board said workers had to be restored to their proper step status by Oct. 1. But the Rauner administration disagrees, and wants more time to compute how much money is owed to each employee. Let’s not forget that no money was set aside in this year’s budget to pay for these increases, so the funds need to be found to pay them too.

Complicating matters, the two sides disagree how much step pay is owed. The Rauner administration says it doesn’t owe anything after Jan. 8, 2016, when it declared an impasse in contract talks with AFSCME. But the union does not agree the two sides are at an impasse, and argues the step payments must be made up through the present day. (Side note: The ILRB has said negotiations are at an impasse, but that is being fought at the appellate court level.)

That is, of course, a simplified version of the many nuances of this saga. Through it all are the workers who just want to be paid what they are owed. And given the speed at which things have progressed so far, it’s fair to assume it could be several more months before final decisions are rendered.

You can probably put this in the “never gonna happen” column, but the Rauner administration and AFSCME should, for the sake of the workers, work out a middle ground for now so these employees get something while they wait for the legal wrangling to be done.

Perhaps that can be found in the different reports the Rauner administration said it is preparing for each state government agency affected. They are doing one report assuming no money is owed after Jan. 8, 2016; another assuming the increases have to be paid through present day; and a third that assumes nothing is owed after Dec. 13, 2016, when the ILRB ruled on the impasse issue.

A compromise, allowing the increases through December 2016, should be considered. That would give employees a year and a half of the increases they are owed. It would give time for the legal challenges to wind their way through court. It would mean the state does have to come up with a lot of money, but not as much as it might if the steps had to be brought up to date.

At some point, a new contract will be agreed upon between the state and AFSCME. When that happens, back pay will be part of the deal. Having a portion of it already paid out would be good not only for the employees, but the state’s checkbook (which is never in healthy shape to begin with). No one wins everything they want in this scenario, but everyone would get something.

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Oct. 5, 2018

Chicago Sun-Times

Van Dyke’s guilty verdict brings relief, sadness, and a sense of hope

“We the jury find the defendant, Jason Van Dyke, guilty of second-degree murder.”

With that sentence, justice of a kind arrived for Laquan McDonald and his family. With that sentence, palpable relief mixed with sadness settled over Chicago.

Relief because the painful, horrifying story of Laquan’s shooting was over. Relief, especially among black Chicagoans, that a jury — a mostly white jury — valued the life of a black teenager and decided that 16 bullets, pumped into him by a white officer seconds after he jumped out of his squad car, warranted a criminal conviction.

Look across the nation at all the other police shootings in recent years that seemed equally indefensible, yet ended in acquittals. Chicago made history Friday with this verdict.

But we feel sadness too. Laquan is dead and will never have an opportunity to transform his troubled young life. His family is grieving.

Then there’s the Van Dyke family. A wife and two young daughters will see a husband and father, now behind bars, likely head off to prison for many years.

The tight-knit police community is hurting, too, though post-verdict statements from some police union leaders won’t do much to engender sympathy.

A “sham trial?” Twelve jurors “duped”? A “shameful verdict” that will hamstring officers from doing their jobs”?

Members of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police said all of that, and it’s nonsense. The shame is on them for such poor judgment on such an emotionally loaded day.

Chicago, in the glare of a national media spotlight, can be proud of how the trial was conducted, without grandstanding or unrest. The 12 jurors, far from being “duped,” handled their civic duty with care and diligence, fully weighing the evidence before handing down their verdict.

And any cop who says this verdict will keep officers from doing their jobs, or from pulling their weapons when faced with a real threat, is simply not talking like a good cop. Remember, no other officer on the scene the night Laquan was shot found it necessary to pull their gun.

This verdict doesn’t put a chill on good police work, just horrific police work.

Van Dyke was convicted on all 16 counts, one for each bullet that hit McDonald.

Along with relief and sadness, we’re also hopeful that with this verdict our city has taken another modest step toward easing longstanding racial tensions. We trust it will help repair the fractured relationship between police and the black community.

Here’s where Mayor Rahm Emanuel can make a difference. After the verdict, an adviser to Rev. Jesse Jackson urged Emanuel, now a lame duck, not to take up renegotiating the police union contracts or the provisions of the city’s consent decree for policing reform.

We disagree. Because Emanuel is not running for a third term, he has freer rein to seize the moment. He can push even harder for reforms that could transform our police department into a national model for effective policing and support the thousands of fine cops who do their incredibly tough job every day with professionalism and integrity.

The mayor himself said it best after the verdict: “The effort to drive lasting reform and rebuild bonds of trust between residents and police must carry on with vigor.”

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Oct. 4, 2018

The Quincy Herald-Whig

Getting a flu shot is the smart move

Flu season is a numbers game, and the top U.S. health officials say as more people get vaccinated against the likely strains the chances of a deadly flu outbreak decline greatly.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week that last year was the deadliest flu season in more than four decades, with 80,000 deaths from flu and its complications.

Most of the fatalities -- about 90 percent -- were among people who were 65 and older. Children accounted for 180 of the deaths, the highest death toll for children under the CDC’s current reporting system. And, tragically, 80 percent of those children who died had not received a flu vaccination.

Doctors and epidemiologists have more than a century of facts to back up their call for vaccinations. Sadly, they’re battling a mountain of misinformation circulated by questionable online sources or well-meaning individuals who share personal experiences that tell only part of the story.

In an effort to correct some common misconceptions, let’s see what the experts say.

Flu vaccines are not 100 percent effective. Even so, if a recipient gets sick, the illness is likely to be less serious for those who got a shot.

Every year, some people choose not to get vaccinated because they believe that if everyone else is protected, they won’t catch the flu. Not only is that assumption wrong, it has been gaining traction among Americans, and each year there are vast numbers of people who skip vaccinations. As fewer people get immunized, more people are susceptible to the flu.

Health care officials say it takes two weeks for the vaccine to offer optimum protection. That’s why the CDC suggests vaccinations during October and before the flu season gets in full swing. At particular risk are older adults, children under 5 and anyone who has heart or lung disease, diabetes, asthma or who may be pregnant.

Classic flu symptoms include aching body, fever, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose and extreme sneezing. And did we mention the flu can kill?

Every year there are needless deaths, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and disrupted lives because of the flu. It’s preventable. Please, get the shot.

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