Secretary Howard Peters III and his staff at the Department of Human Services (DHS) are to be commended for how they recently handled job action invovling over 15 employees who were targeted for layoff. Those employees, a high percentage of whom likely would have been minorities, were spared from being pushed out into the streets.
The need for staff reductions at DHS was talked about from the very beginning when plans were approved to consolidate programs and services from several agencies into one major super agency. Beginning in 1997 when the new department officially began operations, many employees had the jitters wondering whether their jobs would be one of those scheduled to be eliminated. Fortunately, each person on the layoff list was given an acceptable alternative including placement into another job.
DHS took action consistent with provisions of legislation (SB860, as amended) which was passed overwhelmingly by the Illinois House last year. Unfortunately, Republicans in the Illinois Senate refused to bring the bill out of commitee for a vote. The legislation as proposed is race neutral and would provide for transitional assistance in a like manner for state employees as is now being done for employees in the private sector who are faced with plant closings.
This is a fairness issue and should not be caught up in politics. Without this type of legisaltion on the books, state employees are subject to the will of whoever is in charge of agencies when layoffs occur. This could mean dismissal of employees without concern or care about what happens to them and their families.
During the upcoming fall veto session, the Legislature has yet another opportunity to do the right thing and it should do it. As with persons employed in the private sector, state employees should not and need not be subjected to cavalier handling of their employment careers.
Rev. John L. Lambert, executive director, Illinois Association of Minorities in Government