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Arbitrator: Illinois Prisons Stay Open Amid Talks

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Arbitrator: Illinois Prisons Stay Open Amid Talks

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Two major Illinois prisons that Gov. Pat Quinn wanted shuttered by Friday will stay open at least another month after an arbitrator ordered the administration to properly negotiate with state workers over the impact of the closures.

Arbitrator Steven Bierig found that the state departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice violated the contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and ordered the two sides to reach an agreement on ground rules for the shut downs.

Noting the state's budget crisis -- the reason Quinn wants the facilities closed -- Bierig decreed an arrangement be reached within a month.

"The fact that I have determined that the parties must conclude negotiations prior to a facility closure does not mean that the union can act unreasonably in attempting to extend negotiations so as to avoid the closure," Bierig wrote in his ruling.

Quinn communications director Kelly Kraft said the governor's office is disappointed and respectfully disagrees with the arbitrator's ruling. The state has filed an appeal, seeking to vacate the ruling, she said.

"We remain committed to our closure plans and are eager to resolve this matter as quickly as possible," Kraft said.

Democrat Quinn says the state cannot afford to continue operating the supermaximum-security Tamms prison, the women's penitentiary at Dwight, several halfway houses and juvenile detention centers in Murphysboro and Joliet. Lawmakers disagreed, providing money in the budget to keep them open, but Quinn cut it with a veto.

When Corrections started moving highly dangerous inmates from Tamms to the Pontiac Correctional Center in early August, AFSCME sued in far southern Illinois, where Tamms is located.

"There is no rationale for closing these facilities," AFSCME executive director Henry Bayer said in a statement. "They were fully funded by the Legislature, which recognizes that closing them would destabilize the entire prison system, worsen dangerous overcrowding and put the safety of employees, inmates, youth and the public at risk."

AFSCME on Friday afternoon filed a lawsuit in Alexander County asking a judge to declare the arbitrator's decision binding and order the state to comply. The union also wants the judge to issue an injunction keeping the state from closing prisons or transferring inmates.

At issue is a portion of the union contract that requires that the government negotiate the "impact" of state facility closures within 60 days of a shutdown announcement.

Bierig said management has a right to close facilities and the union has a right to negotiate their impact, but decided that the contract language meant negotiations must conclude before the doors are shut.

The union filed another grievance that mixing volatile Tamms inmates with the rest of the prison population and worsening the system's crowding by also closing Dwight would violate a health and safety clause of the contract. Bierig sidestepped that issue, saying he didn't need to decide it while negotiations had not concluded.

Related Topics Pat Quinn, Tamms Prison
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