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Judge Nordberg, enough!

Friday, May 02, 2008
Chicago Tribune

The severe staffing shortage at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center is at crisis proportions. Chronic understaffing has led to forced overtime for workers and the shutdown of the center's school. When there isn't enough staff to secure the place, kids are confined to their quarters—and that's a great deal of the time.

It's a dangerous situation, and one that demands immediate action.

That's why Earl Dunlap, the administrator in charge of the detention center, went to court seeking permission to bypass union and Cook County government rules to quickly hire 175 temporary staffers. Lawyers for Cook County supported the action. Even the lawyer for the Teamsters union wanted to negotiate a settlement that would allow Dunlap to proceed.

But on Wednesday, as the various lawyers were about to make a settlement official in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge John Nordberg, they were derailed by a number of angry, vocal Teamsters. They forced their lawyer to withdraw from the agreement.

Teamsters members were canvassed on Thursday and there was scant support for the settlement.

Why? Here's one reason. The most senior members of the existing staff would be moved from the night shift—coveted because it allows them to sleep on the job—to the day shift. New workers are better suited to work nights, when the kids are asleep. More experienced staff members are better suited to work during the day, when there is far more contact with the kids. But that would be inconvenient for the Teamsters.

Everyone is expected back in Nordberg's courtroom on Friday.

The Teamsters have made it clear they're going to put themselves before the safety of kids at the juvenile center.

So, enough with the negotiations. Nordberg needs to impose this agreement on all the parties. This is an emergency, and Nordberg needs to allow Dunlap to start hiring temporary workers now.

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