By law, the county needs to pass its budget ordinance by the 29th of February and as we have seen in recent days, they are still a vote shy of getting additonal revenue through a tax increase.Efforts were made by your local leadership to get a meeting with the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune so we could explain to them the dire straits our office is in — but the requests apparently fell on deaf ears at the ivory tower on Michigan Avenue.Brothers and sisters, you know that things today are more expensive then they were a few years ago whether it be your mortgage payment, the cost of a gallon of gasoline, or a gallon of milk in your fridge. In a Sun Times article by Cheryl Jackson today, it was reported that from 12/06 to 12/07 the cost of milk went up 22% and eggs 32.6%. Yet some people (like the folks at the civic federation) just don’t understand why a county that ran just fine in 1998 dollars can’t do so ten years later.True, there is some waste in County government. When a hospital system fails to pursue federal reimbursement for care and treatment of patients, the system begins to fail itself. Everyone knows of the tens of millions of dollars the hospital system has lost because of incompetence in billing. We lost anywhere between $40 million and $120 mililon from inept billing practices, according to a report issued last September by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. That report went on to predict that cuts in Medicare funding will total more than $500 million over the next five years.So what do we need? We need two things. First, we need a modest tax increase. If 1.25% is too much maybe it’s a good idea to try something a bit less. But commissioners who are categorically opposed to any new taxes need to face the reality that more revenue is not just a want, but a need. Secondly, we need to take the Cook County Bureau of Health Services away from the politicians and into the hands of a competent and professional Board of Trustees. This was exactly what was recommended in another report commissioned by the County. Those two things. increasing revenue and reforming the hospital system, are what you should ask your commissioner to do. Who is your commissioner? And which district do you live in? Just click and find out. And then make the phone call. Leave a message if they aren’t in. Real revenue and real reform. By law, it’s what this county needs.
The following attorneys recently began employment with our office as assistant public defenders. Each has signed a card to become a full member of the union. Please give them a warm welcome. They are:
CHRISTOPHER J. NOLAN
JENNY E.M. NILSSON
WALTER JOSEPH PAZERA
JENNIFER LYN VAUGHN
JONATHAN SINGH BEDI
Here is the latest talk on the county budget as reported in the Tribune.
There is still no clear answer on whether revenue increases or budget cuts will win out. So we continue to press the Public Defender message with elected officials and others. The Union has spoken with key County Commissioners and others in an attempt to get our message out that any further cuts to this Office cannot be absorbed.
Council 31 is aware that Unicare is telling HMO members that they have to use non-Rush Hospital doctors because of a failure to reach a service agreement with Rush Hospital. For your information, Unicare and Rush have a February 15th deadline for reaching an agreement, so this may still occur. If this does not occur, past practice is to allow Unicare HMO members to migrate to other HMOs or PPOs. Stay tuned for more information.
Tired of your current job site? If you are a grade 2 attorney, you should know that the following postings went up on 1/15/08 and will expire on 2/4/08. Here are the locations looking for 2s and the number of openings at each location:
1st Muni 5
And it appears that the office is hiring again! Welcome back Genevieve O’Toole and welcome to Chris Nolan, our most recent hire and the first in over a year.
IT MAY be a new year according to the calendar, but the same old battling over the budget is still keeping the Cook County board tied up in knots. And it’s no joking matter, as the wrangling is now threatening the jobs and livelihoods of AFSCME members.
Letters sent to the union by the office of board president Todd Stroger this week raised the possibility of an unspecified number of layoffs if commissioners do not approve new revenue necessary to balance the budget. Unfortunately, the Stroger letters inaccurately tried to place blame for the budget stalemate on commissioners who in fact have expressed their support for needed revenues, among them Larry Suffredin and Roberto Maldonado.
AFSCME continues to support these revenues as part of a larger agreement to reform county health services under independent leadership. “Cook County government needs revenue and reform,” AFSCME director Henry Bayer said. “You can’t have one without the other, and President Stroger should be focused on reaching consensus rather than making threats.”
You may have noticed recently that your prescriptions copays have gone up. In the contract that we ratified in June of 2006, we negotiated a modest increase in our prescription drug benefit which went into effect on 12/1/07. The new plan now calls for copays of $7, $15, and $25 for generic, formulary and non-formulary drugs, respectively. While it is a jump from the $5 and $10 we were paying, the new plan is still more favorable than other public and private employee prescription plans.
Wage Increases and Step Increases
Our wages increased 1% on 12/1/04, 1% on 12/1/05, 2% on 6/1/06, 1.5% on 12/1/06, and 2.5% on 6/1/07. The 2% increase scheduled for the first full pay period after 12/1/07 however, has not appeared on our checks which we received on 12/28/07. Needless to say, this is not the first time the County has frozen our wages while trying to pass the next fiscal year’s budget resolution. In previous years, we filed grievances which were withdrawn when the budget was passed and retroactive payments were made to the membership. Last year, Council 31, our exclusive bargaining agent, decided not to withdraw the grievance and took it to arbitration. The result of the arbitration decision last year was that we won by convincing the arbitrator that the County was engaging in an unfair labor practice. While we asked for 6% interest, the arbitrator ruled that the County didn’t really know any better so he wouldn’t award interest. Now, even with that precedent, the County continues to engage in this most unfair of labor practices. This time we will advocate, once again, for interest on our retro checks–and hopefully, we will get it.
And finally, we are scheduled to get a wage increase of 2.75% on 6/1/08. In addition, we negotiated an extra 1% to our to our pay grid to offset the increase in health care contributions that are scheduled to take effect the same day as our pay increase. This extra 1% is currently the topic of another arbitration that has not yet been scheduled. We are anticipating that arbitration will be resolved in our favor well before the pay increase is scheduled to go into effect.
The local has been notified that as of 1/1/08, the amount taken form our paycheck of AFSCME union dues will increase. The increase in membership dues is imposed pursuant to the International Constitution, Article IX, Section 6. The increase is not large enough to require a vote of the general membership but the increase may, nevertheless, be noticed by some of you.
Currently, members pay roughly $550 per year. (Refer to your deductions on your pay stub and multiply by 26 pay periods). An increase of $1.29 per pay period will be added to the previous deduction amount ($21.11) so the total will now be $22.40 per pay period. Hence, your union dues for 2008 will be approximately $582.
Our sole fair share member will see his dues go to $18.14 per pay period.
The members of this local are tired of reading the onslaught of editorials from the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board in recent days which advocate across the board cuts to the County’s budget and oppose any tax increase. The Tribune has characterized county workers as folks who are “whining” about the budget. The fact is that Tribune Editorial Board doesn’t have a clue as to what a budget cut of 10% would mean to the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender. We have printed below, in its entirety, the letter that Vice President Brendan Max sent to the Tribune in response to their recent editorials on the county budget.
Letter to the Editor of the Chicago Tribune
December 18, 2007
The broad-brush strokes applied by this paper’s editorial board, and other commentators, to the County budget process sometimes misses important detail. To those of us who provide needed services to the citizens of Cook County, the details matter.For instance, in support of 10% across-the-board budget cuts, the Tribune editorial board characterized discussion of the impact of such cuts on the criminal justice system as “whining.” While there is always much whining over the politics of the County budget process, there are also objective assessments of the budgetary needs of some county departments that should be part of the budget debate. And reference to these objective assessments isn’t whining, it’s reality.So, for those in favor of further reducing the Cook County Public Defender Office staffing by 55 attorneys as part of indiscriminate across-the-board cuts, you should consider the reality of these cuts on our Office.Just this month, a commission of judges, law professors, and other attorneys completed a 2-year review of the Cook County justice system, including an in-depth review of the Office of the Public Defender. While others may inform their budget commentary by momentary “strolls” through county departments in search of lazy personnel, this Commission of 11 members and dozens of other staff studied the Cook County justice system for months, conducted over 100 interviews, and observed 160 hours of court proceedings. And here is what they found:
- Assistant public defenders in Cook County handle case loads way in excess of national standards, and in excess of their counterparts in many other public defender systems.
- The average felony attorney in Cook County handles 229 cases, while public defenders in New York and Minnesota handle between 100-150 cases.
- This understaffing problem is compounded by the chronic shortage of support staff, including paralegals, secretaries, and investigators. Our Office is nowhere near the national minimum standards for support staff.
- Newly hired attorneys in the Office don’t receive adequate training, and the lack of available budget impacts this failure.
- Office space is characterized by desks that are scotch-taped together, broken water fountains, and insect infestations.
The members of this Commission recommend that hiring practices in the Office of the Public Defender be reformed, that steps be taken to reduce the excessive caseloads carried by assistant public defenders, and that more resources be provided for attorney training.Far from whining, this is reality. For those in favor of cutting dozens more attorneys from the Office of the Public Defender, you owe it to the public discourse to either concede that such cuts will result in the further gutting of an Office that is already teetering on the edge by all objective measures, or tell us how “an automation plan” is going to solve our problems and reduce our caseloads. The fact is, cutting staffing levels further in our understaffed Office makes illusory the constitutional guarantee to effective counsel for citizens facing criminal punishment. In a society where we have chosen to prosecute and lock up so many of our citizens for ever-increasing sentences, yet simultaneously cut funding to public defender services, discussion of this reality should never be labeled “whining.”As the men and women of our understaffed and under-resourced Office fight daily from our scotch-taped desks to keep the justice system afloat, we would appreciate seeing this bit of reality reported. Brendan P. Max, Assistant Public Defender
The Chicago Appleseed organization just published a report on the functioning of our felony courts system in Cook County. The report was based on a 2-year review of the system. This report discusses the public defender system, in part, and makes recommendations for reforms to our system. The bottom line conclusion of the report is that our system is seriously overburdened, and changes must occur.
All assistant public defenders should read this report and be familiar with its findings and recommendations. To access the complete report, go to www.chicagoappleseed.org.
Many members have asked to see the Petition to Intervene in the lawsuit filed by special assistant state’s attorney William Hooks on behalf of Cook County Public Defender Edwin Burnette and the Law Office against President Stroger and some of his staff. We are able at this time to provide you with a pdf version of not only the Petition to Intervene that was filed, but our Complaint as well. Just click AFSCME v. STROGER . Look for developments regarding this litigation right here on our website.