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Wednesday, July 2, 2008 10:16 pm

Hoping for a U-turn

Traffic-safety workers seek to block governor’s relocation proposal

Untitled Document Trevor Halfacre, who has severe scoliosis and a muscle condition known as arthrogryposis, uses a motorized wheelchair and has a personal assistant who shuttles him back and forth between his home and his job with the traffic-safety division of the Illinois Department of Transportation, just off South Dirksen Parkway. Even if he wanted to relocate under Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposal to move the traffic-safety office to the southern-Illinois town of Harrisburg, Halfacre’s assistant has indicated that she would likely remain in Springfield, and Halfacre himself would find it difficult to leave. “I have medical needs that need to be met. I have doctors in Springfield that I’ve been dealing with for a long time. They’re not taking any of that into consideration,” Halfacre says. Other members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, currently employed at the Division of Traffic Safety’s building, 3215 Executive Park Dr., hope that they won’t be forced to make a similar decision — or sacrifice — should the relocation go forward. They’re hoping that either the union or a legislative committee scheduled to convene late this month can block the proposed move. “We will do whatever is necessary, whatever is possible, to prevent this relocation that we think is poorly conceived and presents employees with a terrible choice: Lose their jobs or uproot their families,” says Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME Council 31. The labor group has already filed two separate complaints related to the relocation attempt with the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The first, filed June 10, alleges that IDOT officials failed to provide the union with information, including the number of union members who would be affected by the move and a list of all other sites under consideration.
Days later, on June 20, a second charge was filed, alleging that IDOT officials Jessica Baker and Jerry Nation interfered with employees’ legal and contractual rights by directing workers to remove materials protesting the relocation from their desks. Paris Ervin, an IDOT spokeswoman, says that the department has “abided by its contract [with the AFSCME] and will continue to do so.”
Blagojevich, meanwhile, insists that his only motive is to stimulate the economy of southern Illinois, which, he says, “has suffered disproportionately as a result of the downturn of the economy and will benefit greatly” from the IDOT relocation.
The governor also says he expects the move to create 125 new jobs in Saline County in addition to the 140 traffic-safety jobs to be housed in Harrisburg’s Southeastern Illinois College Foundation building. IDOT will pay moving expenses for full-time workers who opt to relocate, a process that could take as long as nine months to complete, and union members who choose to remain in Springfield will be placed on a recall list.
In addition to the AFSCME’s attempt to halt the relocation, state law requires the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability to hold a hearing on suggested closures of state facilities. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, July 31, in Springfield. The commission, which comprises equal numbers of Democratic and Republican legislators, will then make a recommendation. The governor can ignore the commission’s recommendation, but the AFSCME’s Lindall says that such a move would be unprecedented. For Halfacre, there’s more to consider than just his paycheck: “If I move out of Springfield, I’m going to lose my support system. I’ll lose my independence and could end up back in a nursing home.
“I lose being part of a community.”

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.


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