SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The union representing thousands of Illinois workers said Monday it has asked a judge to maintain an order prohibiting Gov. Pat Quinn from closing seven correctional facilities after an arbitrator's weekend ruling gave the go-ahead.
Independent arbitrator Steven Bierig decided that the Democratic governor had taken the necessary steps to negotiate with workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees over the impact of closing prisons at Tamms and Dwight, three transition centers and two juvenile facilities.
The ruling also found that, contrary to AFSCME contentions, closing the high-security Tamms and other penitentiaries would "not create any greater danger" than already exists in the prison system. But AFSCME believes the arbitrator did not use the proper standard to decide that issue and has asked a judge in Alexander County, where Tamms is located, not to lift an injunction that bars closures.
"We believe this decision clearly violates the state's public policy that requires the employer to provide a safe work environment," AFSCME executive director Henry Bayer said in a statement. "We have asked the judge to vacate the arbitrator's award and submit the case back to the arbitrator to correct his mistakes."
The issue will not likely be concluded soon. Aside from court action either side might seek, the union has the right to enter into another form of arbitration that is guaranteed to public safety workers who are not allowed to go on strike.
Quinn's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The governor announced last winter he wanted to ultimately save more than $80 million annually in the state budget by closing the prisons, three halfway houses and youth centers at Murphysboro and Joliet. AFSCME opposes the closures, along with legislators who provided money to keep them open, which Quinn cut from the budget. The main argument is that the state's collection of adult prisons cannot afford lost space when it has more than 49,000 inmates packed into lockups designed for 33,700.
Bierig, who wrote in his latest decree that "the ideal solution" would be to keep all the facilities open, stepped into the fray in August. That's when he ruled that the administration had not followed contract rules by negotiating with AFSCME over how the closures would affect state workers both those displaced from their jobs and those who would be handling violent inmates in new prisons.
Both Quinn and AFSCME went to court, and AFSCME won the Alexander County injunction against closures while the negotiations continued.
Bierig directed the two sides at the time to "bargain to impasse or agreement." In a ruling completed late Friday night, he said the two sides have talked in earnest but without resolution, so the administration had done what was necessary.