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State workers rally to stop layoffs, but Quinn blames union, Legislature

DCFS workers hold dolls represent children they protect their fight against budget cuts ThompsCenter downtown Chicago Wednesday Sept 19 2012.

DCFS workers hold dolls to represent the children they protect in their fight against the budget cuts at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago on Wednesday Sept 19, 2012. | Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

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Gov. Quinn: AFSCME, lawmakers need to back prison closures to avert DCFS layoffs
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Updated: October 21, 2012 2:46PM

Hundreds of union workers from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services rallied Wednesday to demand Gov. Pat Quinn not fire 400 department employees, but Quinn blamed the union and state legislature for the upcoming layoffs.

Members of AFSCME Local 2081 carried dolls during the rally outside the Thompson Center, which they said symbolized the children who will be affected by the layoffs scheduled for next month.

“If we’re going to put children at the bottom of the priority list, then shame on you,” said Edward Schwartz, the president of AFSCME Local 2081.

Almost 400 workers are set to be laid off Oct. 1 after funding was cut for DCFS operations in the state’s 2013 budget. Union leaders are concerned because legislators won’t meet again until late November — more than a month after the layoffs are slated to begin.

Most of the workers are part of intact family services, which works to keep at-risk children in their homes while providing intervention to parents.

“I would say this is a very serious threat,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME. “Kids will be at risk and will fall through the cracks before then. We’re here today to call on Quinn to prevent the layoffs now and to let legislators do their job in November.”

But Quinn shifted blame Wednesday over the potential DCFS layoffs to AFSCME and the General Assembly, criticizing them both for fighting his plan to close prisons and divert $57 million in savings from those closures to DCFS to stave off job cuts.

“We want to protect abused and neglected children, but the General Assembly and the union wanted to keep facilities open in different parts of Illinois, such as prisons and other facilities that in some cases were half empty or totally empty,” Quinn said.

In late June, Quinn stripped out funds that lawmakers included in the budget to keep prisons in Tamms and Dwight open, along with juvenile detention centers in Joliet and Murphysboro.

During their fall veto session, which begins Nov. 27, the House and Senate will vote to approve those changes or, more likely, override Quinn’s spending reductions.

“The only time we’ll be able to deal with this is when the Legislature comes back in session, and we hope to get the Legislature to restore the money to the Department of Children and Family Services for the children,” the governor said. “I think children are far more important than keeping half-empty facilities open. I think it’s much better to help people than keep half-empty facilities open.”

But many DCFS workers want to see action before November.

“As an intact worker, I feel betrayed,” said Cesario Lopez, a DCFS child welfare specialist and one of the speakers at the rally. “What is the goal of this department now that they are eliminating our whole intact unit? Is it to separate families or help them remain together? I want to see the decision makers consider how much this is going to cost families, including the families that keep this department functioning.”

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