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Hospital layoffs put on hold
Commissioners spare Oak Forest workers

Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Faced with their first hard choice in implementing Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's cost-cutting budget, commissioners blinked Tuesday.

Over Stroger's objection, commissioners sidelined a proposal to outsource janitorial services at Oak Forest Hospital and lay off 96 workers. The plan is slated to save $1.5 million annually.

"This has to end. It seems like every other Friday people are getting laid off," said Commissioner Deborah Sims (D-Chicago), who supported Stroger's budget in February but balked Tuesday on the outsourcing plan. "We need to stop laying people off until we get some kind of explanation and show us where it is in the budget."

Sims and four other commissioners who supported Stroger on his budget were among the board members who moved to send to committee a $9.9 million contract to privatize the janitorial services.

Some of them, including staunch Stroger ally William Beavers (D-Chicago), said they were not opposed to outsourcing but felt the proposal simply needed more debate.

The layoffs are scheduled to take effect July 7. Stroger said "this is real money" if the deadline is blown.

"Right now what you're voting on is the budget and if it's going to be balanced," Stroger warned commissioners before they sent the contract to committee on an 11-5 vote.

Commissioner Jerry Butler (D-Chicago), who backed Stroger on his budget and again Tuesday, said the board needs to have the "guts" to follow through on decisions that have already been made.

"All of us hate the word privatization almost as much as we hate the word tax, but this is the hand that we dealt to ourselves," Butler said. "So now what we are dealing with is the rubber meeting the road, and instead of biting the bullet on these issues, we just want to punt."

Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago), who had fought Stroger's budget with an alternative plan, said Tuesday's vote showed the board can still change the administration's approach to spending.

"This is the first of many situations like this that are going to come forward," Claypool said. "It's not too late to make up for the ... mistakes of that budget."

Also Tuesday, a resolution pushed by Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Riverside) declaring the board had "no confidence" in Stroger died swiftly when no other board member would support him.

"Sometimes one has to be a majority of one," said Peraica, who lost to Stroger in the November election.

In other action Tuesday, the board:

*Approved a resolution directing the county's health officials to restore a program that allows community clinics to refer patients to Cook County for specialty care. County spokeswoman Ibis Antongiorgi said the program would not be immediately restored, saying a summit will be held next week to see if other local health-care providers will accept some of the patients, most of whom are uninsured. *Passed a measure banning county employees from inquiring about the immigration status of the people who use county services. Commissioner Roberto Maldonado (D-Chicago) said the measure would ensure immigrants are treated fairly, while critics said it is a "feel good" move that did not have the weight of law. The proposal failed last month when the board deadlocked, but on Tuesday, Maldonado was able to pick up the needed votes.

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