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State Workers Say, 'Chop From the Top!'

By Joe Iosbaker

Chicago, IL – Governor George Ryan has taken a big ax to the state budget. His target is working people. He plans to lay off 3000 employees, and to cut back on services like health care for the poor.

Workers are starting to put up a fight. The Illinois Association of Hispanic State Employees has called for an April 24 rally at the State House in Springfield. Their message: “Say 'No!' to cutbacks and 'Yes!' to protecting our jobs and communities!”

At a press conference on March 4, Carmen Flores-Rance, president of the Illinois Association of Hispanic State Employees, told 50 workers, “We have to speak as one. These cuts cannot hurt our community.”

Governor Ryan wants to make cuts in the Department of Human Services, the Board of Education, and other departments. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents these workers, is putting up stiff resistance.

Next Target: University of Illinois

Now the knife is in the hands of President James Stukel of the University of Illinois. On March 7, he announced 600 more jobs will go. He is demanding another 10% hike in student tuition, or he says the job cuts will increase to 900.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 joined with University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) students in a rally on Feb. 20 to oppose the tuition increase.

In addition to the threat to their jobs, UIC clerical workers received another threat on March 13. Chancellor Sylvia Manning told everyone at UIC, “At present we expect that there will be no salary increase program per se for fiscal year '03.”

The contract for 1200 customer service representatives, secretaries and clerks expires in August 2002. Clerical workers face an uphill battle for decent raises when they get to the bargaining table. “We need to prepare for a fight,” said Tom Terranova, SEIU Local 73 negotiator.

The UIC Board of Trustees will meet on May 15 and 16 in Chicago to vote on the budget cuts. Shirley McIntosh, a clerical steward, said, “We'll have to tell them to chop from the top – that's where the fat is at UIC.”

The university has an overgrown top layer of bosses. One hundred of the top administrators draw a salary greater than the governor's. Top management has grown larger in the last 20 years, and their salaries have ballooned. For example, the dean of the College of Medicine was paid $150,000 a year in 1990. Today, he makes over $400,000 a year.

Make the Rich Pay

Illinois has had a decade of record tax collections, but the rich haven't been paying their share. AFSCME Council 31 is calling for putting more taxes on the rich. This is the right thing to do. According to Matthew Gardner of Citizens for Tax Justice, “The Illinois tax system, more so than most other states, already goes very easy on the wealthy. There are loopholes in place already that make the tax burden on the wealthiest Illinoisans lower than on any other income group.” In fact, Illinois has the fifth lowest tax “burden” on the rich and corporations of any of the 50 states.

John Ayala, a UIC worker and activist, supported the call for the April 24 rally. He said, “We have to go to Springfield to send a message that they can't balance their budget on our backs.”

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