Unions ask ECC board to reconsider layoffs
Two Elgin Community College employee unions made a plea to the college board Tuesday to reconsider layoffs and elimination of a surgical technology program.
It comes on the heels of the college board adopting an $80.3 million 2017 operating budget, which includes reductions to stave off a projected $2.7 million deficit next fiscal year.
Anywhere between seven and 30 full-time and part-time support personnel positions could be affected by layoffs, saving roughly $482,000, officials said.
Support personnel were given the option of taking a salary freeze to stave off layoffs, which the union membership declined because college officials could not guarantee there would not be layoffs later.
"We are the lowest paid work group," said Bob Treadwell, president of the Support Staff of Elgin Community College Association.
Treadwell said his members are concerned about rising health insurance costs and having no guarantee that their jobs would be safe, which sealed the membership's vote against giving up raises.
"There's other ways of saving money," added Treadwell, suggesting the college temporarily mothball its newest Public Safety Training Center in Burlington.
The nearly $20 million center, situated on about 120 acres along Plank Road, was built for training firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians. The college has budgeted roughly $1 million to run classes there starting this fall. Closing it would save $670,000, said Sharon Konny, the college's vice president of business and finance.
Treadwell said so far only 90 people are enrolled for fall classes, adding "That's very expensive, per student."
Another union official questioned why the administration isn't tapping into its reserves.
"That's what you gotta do when times are hard," said Chris McCoy, support staff union vice president. The message that our people are hearing is the bricks and mortar is more important than the people that work here."
Layoffs are not unique to ECC. College of Lake County in Grayslake eliminated 20 jobs in March, and Harper College in Palatine will lay off 29 employees on June 30.
"There are several schools in this state that are in their second or third round of layoffs," ECC President David Sam said. "We are among the last to talk about layoffs, not because we are afraid of it. We worked hard to make sure that it will not happen, but we have reached a stage we have to balance the budget."
Among the cuts are imposing a travel freeze for nonessential out-of-state trips, raising the minimum age for senior citizen tuition waivers, not filling vacancies unless critical, and deferring nonessential maintenance and capital projects. Sam and administrators also have given up salary increases, he said.
Next school year, the college will begin phasing out a 26-year-old surgical technology program.
Elgin Community College Faculty Association President Luis Martinez said employee morale has taken a big hit with the administration's decisions.
"It's this trickle down decision making that happens here because there is no shared governance," he said. "We are willing to be part of the solution. We have not been invited to the table."
Sam defended opening the Burlington center as a step toward the future, but added he doesn't want to see the surgical tech program close either.
"We are living day-to-day because we don't know what is going to happen with the state budget," Sam said.
"To think that the fund balance is what will save us is the biggest mistake we could make."