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Arbitrator rules Quinn, prisons violated union contract; facilities to stay open

Updated: August 31, 2012 7:34PM

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — 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.

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. The judge appointed the arbitrator to sort things out.

“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.”

Quinn’s office did not immediately comment.

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.

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