Rauner lays off prison nurses, replaces tower guards with cameras

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ILLINOIS GOVERNOR BRUCE RAUNER wants to replace guards in state prison watchtowers with security cameras and is laying off 124 prison nurses in an alleged cost saving move. – AP/Steve Davis photo

By CARL GREEN

Illinois Correspondent

Springfield, IL – It’s getting tougher to work for the state of Illinois, especially if you’re a union member working at a state prison.

The Rauner Administration has sent layoff notices to 124 union nurses, who are to be replaced by private workers as the administration continues its drive to diminish the role of unions.

In addition, Rauner is also trying to replace some of the work done by union prison guards by replacing them in watchtowers with close-circuit cameras. The guards would keep their jobs, but overtime hours would be reduced.

The nursing layoffs are at 12 prisons throughout the state.

Alice Johnson, president of the Illinois Nurses Association, said the state has already been making it hard for the nurses to do their duties by failing to fill vacancies and forcing the remaining nurses to work double shifts.

“It’s appalling that this administration, which cannot find enough nurses to fill existing vacancies in our prison system, is laying off 124 nurses, putting the prison system at risk for lawsuits and multi-million-dollar judgments,” she said.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Nicole Wilson said the administration will save $8 a million a year and that the contractor, Wexford Health Care Services, is willing to hire “most of” the pink-slipped nurses and that the administration would help the others find jobs elsewhere in the government.

The notice came as Rauner continued to delay on negotiating a new contract, leading the union to file against the Department for unfair labor practices.

AFSCME WARY OF GUARDS PLAN

The watchtower decision affects the 23 minimum- and medium-security prisons and is supposed to save $4 million a year through reduced overtime and “more efficient management strategies,” a spokeswoman told the Associated Press. The four maximum-security prisons would not be affected.

AFSCME Council 31, which represents the guards, is wary of the plan. “There’s a whole range of things that a tower person can do,” said Council 31 Regional Director Eddie Caumiant. “They can see, very clearly, exactly what’s going on in a situation in the yard, they can anticipate what will happen and they can see things that are out of range of the officers on the ground.”

Also wary is the John Howard Association of Illinois, a prison watchdog group.

“Cameras can catch what staff can’t see and staff can catch what the cameras can’t see,” said Executive Director Jennifer Vollen-Katz. “In addition to increasing surveillance inside the prison, you also want a person there for the responses. Cameras can’t intervene; they can’t de-escalate.”

The idea is also being tried in Michigan and Pennsylvania, but when Wisconsin reduced tower staffing in 2015, it also cut 60 jobs.

(Some information from the Associated Press and the State Journal Register, Springfield.)

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