November 15, 2017

Layoffs in Cook County jail, probation could undermine public safety

AFSCME Council 31 took to the media to blast planned Cook County layoffs. On Tuesday, Nov. 14, Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch and local union leaders issued the following statement:

Layoffs in Cook County jail, probation could undermine public safety

County Board should close budget hole without cutting public services

The threat of major layoffs in the Cook County jail and under the chief judge “would jeopardize jail security and put public safety at risk”, AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said in a letter sent Monday to county commissioners.

Facing a $200 million budget hole caused by the repeal of the sweetened beverage tax, published reports and documents indicate the county is considering the layoff of nearly 600 employees. Of the total, more than 150 are under the sheriff or chief judge.

Threatened layoffs in the jail include more than two dozen correctional lieutenants and sergeants.

“Since lieutenants are deemed essential personnel, layoffs don’t mean the post goes unfilled, they mean someone else works overtime, which actually costs more,” said Chuck Luna, a lieutenant and president of AFSCME Local 2226. “We’re the shift commander, and you can’t run a shift without the commander. The safety of not only the institution but the public is at stake, and we’re ultimately the ones responsible.”

“We are essential personnel who keep the jail running safely for the community and for our staff,” the president of AFSCME Local 3692 correctional sergeants said. “We supervise up to 35 officers at a time, and we’re called anytime there’s a problem. Without us, the jail would be less secure, with far longer response times if an officer needed backup. That’s a lose-lose situation.”

Threatened layoffs under the chief judge include juvenile probation officers as well as caseworkers, clerks and administrative assistants.

“The kids who wind up on juvenile probation are violent offenders who need to be supervised. We provide discipline and structure and sometimes we’re the only positive influence in their lives,” said Lloyd Marshall, a juvenile probation officer and the president of AFSCME Local 3477. “With all the gun violence already, if we weren’t here, I don’t know what would happen. It would be a disservice to the community and to these minors if any probation officer was laid off.”

“We protect the community from defendants who’ve been convicted of serious violent offenses and need to be monitored,” said Jim Dunaway, an adult probation officer and the president of AFSCME Local 3486. “We are already understaffed. Politicians talk about fat and waste, but it’s not here. You can’t monitor a caseload of offenders without adequate staff. Commissioners need to find revenue to avoid layoffs.”

Commissioners “should reject unfair and unworkable cuts that would harm the county’s vital public services and the dedicated workers who provide them,” Council 31 Executive Director Lynch wrote. She urged the board “to develop responsible solutions that provide the revenue necessary to fund the county government that residents rely on. It is better to delay the budget calendar in order to find a fair solution than to rush into a flawed approach that will hurt Cook County residents, reduce services and scapegoat employees.”

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