Chicago Department of Water Management Workers contaminated by Limestone


Many City of Chicago Department of Water Management employees have been poisoned by Limestone Dust. A well-hidden killer lurks in the air every time the wind blows. Alderman Burke and the Committee on Finance have systemically denied essential care for lung, skin, and necessary medical care. According to an unnamed City employee, “We have reported this hazardous dust to the Illinois Department of Labor. City workers do not have OSHA”. “We are dying”. We have city workers die right after retirement for breathing issues. The North District open a fire-hydrant and when the State Safety Inspector is present, a couple of Laborers get out a little garden hose and put on a show. It is all a scam. Rahm Emmanuel does not care one single bit. We have reported claims for over ten years. The 45th Ward residents are subject to these deadly mists”. How much are taxpayers really saving? The City of Chicago Wellness program does not address these concerns. They use the testing to get rid of blacks and overweight city workers. We need masks, we need safety. Paul just does not care.

Edward M. BURKE and the City of Chicago, Defendants-Appellees.

913 F.2d 427

17 Fed.R.Serv.3d 1389

Henry HUDSON, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Edward M. BURKE and the City of Chicago, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 89-2601.

United States Court of Appeals,
Seventh Circuit.

Argued Feb. 23, 1990.
Decided Sept. 18, 1990.

Aram A. Hartunian, James G. Bradtke, Hartunian, Futterman & Howard, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Arthur N. Christie, CC, Ruth M. Moscovitch, Kelly R. Welsh and Jean Dobrer, ACC, Office of Corp. Counsel, Appeals Div., Jerome H. Torshen, Mark K. Schoenfield, James K. Genden, Torshen, Schoenfield & Spreyer, Chicago, Ill., for defendants-appellees.

Before BAUER, Chief Judge, and EASTERBROOK and MANION, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.

1
Appellants are former employees of the City of Chicago Finance Committee who lost their jobs when their alderman, Wilson Frost, was displaced as committee chairman. They sued the new committee chairman, Edward M. Burke, and the City for violating their constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. Prior to trial, the district court granted Chicago’s motion for summary judgment, and granted Burke’s motion for summary judgment on the issues of damages and qualified immunity. Hudson v. Burke, 617 F.Supp. 1501 (N.D.Ill.1985). The case proceeded to a bench trial in 1986 on appellants’ request for injunctive relief against Alderman Burke for reinstatement.

2
There is no dispute that appellants were replaced for political reasons. The only question is whether their jobs were sufficiently political to justify Burke’s consideration of political affiliation in firing them, thereby immunizing his decision from constitutional scrutiny under the Supreme Court’s line of patronage cases beginning with Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 49 L.Ed.2d 547 (1976).1 After a bench trial the district court entered judgment for the defendants. The appellants challenge the district court’s conclusion that their positions were not constitutionally protected, and that they would have been fired anyway for poor work performance. They also appeal the district court’s 1986 decision to grant summary judgment for the City of Chicago. Burke renews his contention that the district court erred by failing to grant him legislative immunity. We affirm.

I. Background

3
All six appellants were hired by the City of Chicago Finance Committee between 1975 and 1980. While their job duties varied, all were considered “investigators” or “legislative aides” (the terms were used interchangeably) for the committee. John Laschiava, Henry Hudson, Lafayette Blackmon and Ruby Thomas handled claims against the City, usually either small property damage claims, claims against the City by policemen and firemen for work-related injuries, or worker’s compensation claims by City employees. Whitney Valentine also worked with claims, but her job was to assign investigators to gather information requested by department heads. Gwen Flowers was a clerical employee who reviewed files and assisted in processing claims.

4
The appellants were political hires; all were hired “by Frost, except for … Hudson who was hired based on Frost’s letter of sponsorship to the prior chairman…. [M]ost of [the appellants] were precinct captains [and] also performed political work for Alderman Frost and his 34th Ward Organization.” Hudson v. Burke, 617 F.Supp. at 1504.

5
The district court in Hudson v. Burke, id. summarized the highly charged political atmosphere surrounding the events that gave rise to this case:

6
On May 2, 1983, during a now legendary session of the City Council, Mayor Washington unsuccessfully attempted to adjourn the Council meeting to prevent the majority block of alderman (referred to in the media as the “Vrdolyak 29”) from realigning committee chairmanships and altering Council rules. Alderman Frost and a minority faction of the Council walked out of the Council chambers after the Mayor’s “adjournment”; however, a majority of the council members remained and continued to conduct Council business. During this post “adjournment” session, Alderman Burke was elected Chairman of the Council Finance….

7
The Illinois Appellate Court upheld the legality of the City Council meeting at which Alderman Burke was elected Finance Committee Chairman. Roti v. Washington and Rush v. Kozubowski, 114 Ill.App.3d 958, 71 Ill.Dec. 30, 450 N.E.2d 465 (1983). However, Alderman Frost refused to vacate the Finance Committee office or to allow Alderman Burke access for approximately two months…. Alderman Frost finally relinquished the Chairman’s office after the Illinois Supreme Court refused to review the Appellate Court’s decision….

8
Those were the controversial political circumstances under which Burke assumed control of the Finance Committee. After that council meeting, but before Frost vacated the chairman’s offices, Frost instructed his staff, including the appellants, not to cooperate or turn committee documents over to Burke.

9
Rule 37 of the Rules of the City Council details the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee:

10
The Committee on Finance shall have jurisdiction over the City budget, tax levies, industrial revenue bonds and revenue bond programs, revenue and expenditure orders, ordinances and resolutions, the financing of municipal services and capital developments; and matters generally affecting the Budget office, the Department of Finance, and the solicitation of funds for charitable or other purposes on the streets and other public places. The Committee shall have jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to the audit and review of expenditures of funds appropriated by the Council or under the custody of the City Treasury, and all claims under the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Act.

11
The district court in Hudson v. Burke, 617 F.Supp. at 1504-05, described the changes Burke claimed to have made in the responsibilities of Finance Committee investigators, changes that allegedly enhanced the investigators’ political roles:

12
After Alderman Burke was elected Chairman of the Finance Committee, he determined that the Committee should take a more aggressive and active role than before to monitor City government activities and financial affairs…. Burke therefore allegedly decided to change the duties of the Finance Committee investigators. In addition to investigations of workmen’s compensation claims and injured-on-duty claims of police and firefighters, the investigators were to gather factual information concerning needs for and delivery of City services …

13
Burke assumed the office of Chairman of the Finance Committee in June 1983, thereby obtaining complete control over committee hiring and firing. He met with Edwin Bell, Chief Administrative Officer of the Finance Committee under Frost, and Dan Kubasiak, chosen by Burke as Bell’s successor. Burke’s discussions were about the nature of appellants’ jobs, and also about the appellants’ political sponsors. In mid-July 1983, Burke fired all the appellants but Flowers, who was fired in September 1983.

14
The district court denied Burke’s motion for summary judgment because it concluded that genuine issues of material fact remained as to “(1) the nature of the investigator positions; and (2) whether [appellants’] political beliefs or affiliations were a ‘substantial’ or motivating factor in the decision to terminate their employment.” 617 F.Supp. at 1508.

15
At trial Burke stipulated that political affiliation was a substantial and motivating factor in appellants’ termination, but contended appellants would have been fired anyway because they were not qualified for the expanded work he had in mind for committee investigators, and because their previous work for the committee was not competent. Burke also argued that committee staff members were exempt from the constitutional restrictions on politically motivated employment decisions, relying on the conclusion in Shakman v. Democratic Organization of Cook County, 569 F.Supp. 177, 183 (N.D.Ill.1983), that “[e]mployees of the City Council” were exempt from an injunction against political hirings and firings.

16
For some unexplained reason the district court waited nearly three years to issue its memorandum opinion. The trial was held in late July of 1986, but the court did not issue its brief opinion until July 10, 1989. The district court, focusing on the “inherent powers” of the Finance Committee investigator positions, agreed that the investigators had input into politically sensitive areas of governmental decisionmaking on issues where there is room for principled disagreement. The court also held, in conclusory fashion, that the evidence supported Burke’s contention that the appellants would have been terminated anyway due to poor work performance.

II. Analysis

17
Appellants as a threshold matter contend that the district court’s findings, in light of the long delay between trial and judgment, were inadequate under Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a), which requires the court to “find the facts specially and state separately its conclusions of law thereon….” Although we do not understand or approve of the district court’s delay in filing its order, the court’s factual findings adequately support the ruling that the investigator positions were inherently political. The court described the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee, then outlined the inherent powers of committee investigators in light of Supreme Court and Seventh Circuit precedent. Further, appellants point to no authority that justifies ignoring the district court’s valid findings of fact simply because the judge delayed their memorialization. The court’s factual findings regarding the political nature of Finance Committee investigator jobs complied with Rule 52(a), and we will reverse those findings only if we are convinced they are clearly erroneous.2

18
The Supreme Court in Elrod v. Burns and Branti v. Finkel held that firing public employees due to political affiliation violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights unless political affiliation is in some sense necessary to their jobs. Elrod stressed that a “non-policy-making, nonconfidential” government employee cannot be discharged based solely upon his political beliefs. 427 U.S. at 375, 96 S.Ct. at 2690 (Stewart, J. concurring). Branti, while not rejecting the policymaking and confidential labels, moved toward a functional analysis of whether “party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the office involved.” 445 U.S. at 518, 100 S.Ct. at 1295. This court has opined that “the focus here is on the office or position rather than the individual officeholders.” Meeks v. Grimes, 779 F.2d 417, 419 (7th Cir.1985). Further, “Elrod and Branti require examination of the powers inherent in a given office, as opposed to the functions performed by a particular occupant of that office.” Tomczak v. City of Chicago, 765 F.2d 633, 640 (7th Cir.1985).

19
In Nekolny v. Painter, 653 F.2d 1164, 1170 (7th Cir.1981), we set out a standard that focuses on the functions of the office:

20
The test is whether the position held by the individual authorizes, either directly or indirectly, meaningful input into government decisionmaking where there is room for principled disagreement on goals or their implementation.

21
Id. (emphasis added). We will now apply this functional test to the positions held by appellants, keeping in mind that ” ‘[p]olicymaking’ and ‘confidential’ do accurately describe the vast majority of offices that fall within the realm of legitimate patronage….” Meeks, 779 F.2d at 420.

22
There are two prongs to appellants’ argument. First, they say their work was only ministerial and administrative. Hudson, Blackmon, Laschiava and Thomas worked outside the office, gathering information about claims by conducting interviews, taking photographs and obtaining copies of records for processing by the Finance Committee. Valentine worked inside the office, routing outside work to the others and conducting some interviews by telephone. Flowers worked inside the office, processing small property damages claims and sometimes routing requests for more information to Valentine. They contend they were investigators in name only, and had no input into policymaking for the Finance Committee. Second, they argue that Burke did not transform the duties of replacement “investigators” into jobs requiring political loyalty or otherwise meeting the Elrod-Branti test. They contend the district court erred by relying exclusively on the job title–“investigator”–to mistakenly conclude that appellants were involved in confidential or policymaking positions.

23
Appellants then attack the work performed by their replacements as investigators. Within a few months of firing appellants Burke hired the following persons as investigators: William Duggan, Horace Lindsey, Robert Hogan, David McKinney, Alex Obrzut, James Concannon, James Kelleher, Richard Chmelek and James Moore. Burke retained at least four of Frost’s investigators–David Balter, LeRoy Keane, Phil Sheridan and Crawford Jacobson. Burke fired then rehired another investigator, Bernard DiMeo.

24
Appellants first demonstrate that all the new hires had some political connections to Burke or other influential politicians. (This only stands to reason–Burke does not dispute that he considered these positions political in nature.) Then appellants attempt to show that the replacements did the same claims processing work as appellants, so that Burke did not actually change the role of the investigators.

25
We have already pointed out, however, that we must not focus so much on what appellants or their replacements actually did as on what powers were inherent in the positions they held. See Tomczak, supra; Meeks, supra. Some investigators may have exercised all of those powers, others may have performed primarily administrative tasks. Given the intense political divisions affecting the City Council during that period, we hold that the district court was not clearly erroneous to find that “investigators” or “legislative aides” for the Finance Committee provided sufficient subjective input into policy decisions so that political affiliation was an appropriate consideration for hiring and firing.

26
Partisan politics enter into many decisions of the Finance Committee. That committee, control of which was the subject of so much political infighting, has jurisdiction over many of the City’s most important political decisions, including forming the annual budget, proposing bond ordinances, and considering taxes. The committee processes claims against the City, and reviews City contracts and community development block grants. Appellants are correct that the political nature of the Finance Committee is not at issue; nevertheless, the work performed by appellants and their successors contributed to many of the committee’s political decisions. As the district court put it:

27
These areas are some of the most politically sensitive areas of city government decisionmaking. Finance Committee investigators, consequently, have “inherent” in their position the power to investigate, report facts and have input into those areas of politically sensitive governmental decisionmaking.

28
Looking first, as appellants do, to the work performed by appellants, we notice immediately that their primary qualifications to work for the Finance Committee–or at least the qualifications all had in common–were their political connections to the former chairman, Alderman Frost. Political affiliation was a primary reason they were hired; all performed political work for Frost and his ward organization. Hudson v. Burke, 617 F.Supp. at 1504. The appellants were personally loyal to Frost; Burke testified that during the dispute over the committee chairmanship Frost instructed his staff, including appellants, “not to cooperate with me [or] turn over any documents or records….” As a starting point in considering whether positions are inherently political, the district court certainly was entitled to note that appellants were hired because of their political affiliation.

29
Appellants try to downplay the work they and their successors performed for the Finance Committee by emphasizing claims processing and dealing with small issues like potholes and street lights. But the Chicago City Council does not normally debate issues of national political consequence. Instead, seemingly inconsequential matters such as potholes and street lights and garbage collection and workmen’s compensation claims can be important political issues for the City Council. As Burke testified,

30
[p]riorities of expenditures of the City’s revenue are political in nature. A decision whether there should be more police or more firemen or more garbage carts or fewer garbage collections or condominium refuse rebates, as opposed to cart pickup programs in various wards–each member of the legislative body … has a certain agenda that he or she wishes to advance. Sometimes it’s for parochial interests, sometimes it’s for broader interests…. But to the extent they do advance those individual programs or ideas and ultimately gain approval, I think it’s part of the political process….

31
Appellants provided “meaningful direct [and] indirect input into the decision making process” on these and other political issues where “there [was] room for principled disagreement in the decisions reached….” Meeks v. Grimes, 779 F.2d at 420. Appellants might have felt compelled to conduct their inquiries and process claims in a way they thought beneficial to their political benefactor, and harmful to Burke, especially in light of Frost’s order that they not cooperate with Burke. The district court was not clearly erroneous in finding that this potential obstruction of the duties of the Finance Committee made political affiliation an appropriate consideration for appellants’ jobs.

32
The appellants believe the district court wrongly relied on the job title of “investigator,” while ignoring the actual job responsibilities of those who held investigator positions. But some of Alderman Burke’s replacements demonstrate the powers inherent in the position of “investigator” or “legislative aide” for the Finance Committee. No matter what these positions were titled, the evidence showed they were susceptible to partisan political usage, and that Alderman Burke began using some investigators in that fashion after he took over the Finance Committee.

33
Burke testified that he envisioned an expanded role for committee investigators as the “eyes and ears” of the committee. This role required persons “experienced in gathering information,” preferably “with experience in law enforcement, because … that is a tremendous training ground for persons who would work as investigators….” Burke’s new hires as investigators had substantial experience as retired policemen or detectives, or city and county investigators and inspectors. Burke’s assistant testified that 70 percent of his new investigators’ time was spent on investigative fact-finding, and only 30 percent on the type of claims processing performed by appellants. Further, Burke sought “people who were dependable and who could be counted upon to respect confidentiality of matters that the Committee would deal with, and who would be loyal to the Office of the Chairman.”

34
The evidence showed that several of Burke’s investigators devoted substantial amounts of time to obtaining information used in ongoing Finance Committee and City Council budget battles. In particular, the district court heard evidence that investigators provided politically sensitive information to the Finance Committee that was used to contest positions taken by Burke’s political opponents–the administration of Mayor Washington and his allies on the Council–on issues relating to a garbage cart proposal, the appropriate level of police and forestry department manpower, whether a City department abused overtime, the number of industrial inspectors, the need for more ambulances, and budgeting for removal of abandoned buildings, among other things. The investigators also delved into politically sensitive matters such as the abuse of City vehicles and chauffeurs, and inappropriate political channeling of community development block grants.

35
This investigative work certainly qualifies as “meaningful direct or indirect input into the decision making process” on issues where “there is room for principled disagreement in the decisions reached by the employee and his superiors.” Tomczak, 765 F.2d at 641. In Tomczak, id., we noted the important political dimensions involved in the provision of city services:

36
[O]ne of the biggest, if not the biggest, turning points in the 1979 Chicago mayoral election involved the provision of snow-removal services. The primary function of any local governmental entity is the provision of services such as police and fire protection, public schools, hospitals, transportation, and libraries, as well as quasi-utility functions such as water, garbage and sewage services. Elections often turn on the success or failure of the incumbent to provide these services, and, as campaigns develop, the opposing sides put forth varying proposals about how best to provide services. While the ultimate goal of all sides might be the same, there is clearly room for principled disagreement in the development and implementation of plans to achieve that goal.

37
Appellants concede that two of Burke’s investigators, Duggan and Lindsey, engaged in “politically sensitive” work, but argue that

38
Duggan and Lindsey were not replacements for any of the plaintiffs. Duggan and Lindsey did not process claims…. [and were] functionally separate from … the other investigators…. Duggan and Lindsey took their assignments directly from Alderman Burke and had confidential relationships with Alderman Burke…. [They] worked on investigations which were more complicated, and in some instances adverse to the political interests of Mayor Washington’s administration…. But the positions held by Duggan and Lindsey have nothing to do with this case because there were other persons who replaced [appellants], and performed the same sort of functions that [appellants] did.

39
Here appellants state Burke’s case. Duggan and Lindsey were two members of a group of persons hired as “investigators” to replace appellants. Burke argues that he changed the role of “investigator” to do more of what Duggan and Lindsey did, and less of what appellants did. It makes no sense for appellants to try to separate Duggan and Lindsey out, admit they performed politically sensitive tasks, and then say they were not replacements for appellants. The evidence showed that some investigators did more fact-finding than others; Duggan and Lindsey were the most experienced and therefore selected for the most politically sensitive and complex investigations, and also spent the most time on investigations as opposed to claims processing. No other members of the Finance Committee staff except “investigators” performed this type of fact-finding. Others on the staff did some claims processing and some fact-finding. But they were all hired as “investigators” to replace appellants. By conceding that some of those investigators performed politically sensitive fact-finding missions for the Committee, the appellants in effect concede that these investigator positions are inherently political. The district court’s finding is amply supported by the evidence and is not clearly erroneous.

40
Appellants also challenge the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment for the City of Chicago because the City could not be held responsible for the actions of Alderman Burke under a respondeat superior theory. The City’s first argument is that appellants were appropriately fired on a political basis from their Finance Committee jobs. In light of our conclusion that Burke’s political firing of appellants did not violate their constitutional rights, we need not reach the merits of this issue.

III. Conclusion

41
Appellants were political hires whose sponsor lost power. They and their replacements were sources of information for a powerful committee during a time of antagonism and divisive political turmoil; these positions could have been and sometimes were used for political purposes. Political affiliation was an appropriate consideration when they were hired, and was equally appropriate when they were fired. The judgment of the district court is

42
AFFIRMED.

Shakman: Workers’ comp jobs should be ‘non-political’ hires

Written By Fran Spielman Posted: 02/24/2016, 12:50pm Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago’s $100 million-a-year workers’ compensation program is an “executive branch responsibility” with jobs that should be “filled under the city’s non-political hiring plan,” attorney Michael Shakman said Wednesday.

Shakman filed the complaint that culminated in the federal ban on political hiring and signed off on a 2014 agreement that persuaded a federal judge to release Chicago from the 42-year-old Shakman decree that bears his name.

He painstakingly negotiated a hiring plan that made all City Council employees exempt positions.

On Wednesday, Shakman acknowledged that he made a “mistake” by exempting worker’s comp employees in the City Council’s Finance Committee chaired by Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

“It sounds like something that belongs in the executive branch and, therefore, should be a job filled under the city’s non-political hiring plan,” Shakman said.

“With respect to City Council employees, we should have done more and I regret not having done more. We did have an effort to bring the City Council into the fold . . . It didn’t go anywhere. The judge was not very sympathetic to the argument, and we didn’t push it. That was focused on all aldermanic employees — not on worker’s comp people. It was a mistake on our part.”

Still, Shakman argued that Jay Stone, maverick son of former longtime Ald. Bernard Stone (50th), has other legal hurdles to clear if he hopes to make the case that Burke administers workers’ comp in a way that violates the Shakman decree.

“Stone would still have to show, No. 1 that it’s impermissible for the City Council to allocate an executive job to a legislative officer and No. 2 that . . . Burke is using those jobs as patronage jobs,” Shakman said.

Still, Stone called Shakman’s support for the complaint he filed against Burke with Inspector General Joe Ferguson the “highest honor possible that I could receive.”

The late alderman’s son said he has no doubt that he can make the case that Burke has filled those worker’s comp jobs with “political hacks,” as he put it.

“Growing up and living in politics, that’s the way it works,” Stone said.

In 2008, Stone won a $75,000 award from the $12 million fund created to compensate victims of City Hall’s rigged hiring system.

A federal hiring monitor believed his claims that he lost his 2003 aldermanic election against Ald. Ted Matlak (32nd) because Matlak had the support of the political army commanded by now-convicted former First Deputy Water Commissioner Donald Tomczak.

Stone said he decided to file the complaint against Burke after his friend, Pat McDonough, a city plumbing inspector who spoke out about abuses in the city’s Hired Truck Program, got a letter from the Finance Committee last month cutting off his disability pay. (January 8, 2016)

“The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I could not understand why the Finance Committee was administering duty disability. And more importantly, my friend was denied due process. They just stopped his pay. The letter said he was non-cooperative. It didn’t say how or who said so,” Stone said.

“My friend is a three-time whistleblower. He reported corruption. They could use the giving or taking away of workers’ comp to help those who are precinct captains and punish those who work against the machine.”

Referring to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, Stone said, “If Ald. [Pat] O’Connor goes to Ed Burke and says, `One of my guys was injured on the job. Take care of him,’ you can be sure Burke is going to take care of him. But if a political upstart who raises trouble gets duty disability, they’re not going to get the same treatment. Workers’ comp has got to be taken out of the political process.”

Before empowering Ferguson to investigate aldermen and their employees, the City Council voted 25 to 23 to deny the inspector general the right to audit workers’ comp and programs administered by aldermen.

Even so, Stone maintained that Ferguson has the power to investigate Burke after assuming the all-important power of policing city hiring in the post-Shakman era when federal hiring monitor Noelle Brennan was dismissed.

“The federal decree trumps any ethics ordinance. It’s a higher authority. They can’t use an ethics ordinance to block or circumvent an agreement signed in federal court,” he said.

No matter what Ferguson does, Stone urged Emanuel to move immediately to seize control over the workers’ comp program.

“Mayor Emanuel has abdicated his workers’ comp duties and responsibilities to Ald. Burke,” Stone said.

“He has gone after the teachers. But he wouldn’t dare go after Burke because of Burke’s knowledge and control over the Finance Committee.”

Seeking Chicago Employees Who Have Workers’ Compensation Horror Stories

Mayor Emanuel’s Workers’ Comp Unjustly Denying Disability Pay and Benefits

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “We are aggressively pursuing $15 million in savings from workers’ comp.” Emanuel added, “I know that it (workers’ compensation) needs reforms.” Emanuel did not tell the public how his administration is saving $15 million a year in workers’ compensation, nor has he provided details of his workers’ compensation reforms. Since Emanuel won’t tell you about his dirty secrets and dirty dealings, I will. Emanuel is saving tax dollars by taking money away from a significant number of city workers who are deserving of their disability pay and benefits. Emanuel’s saving plan is to deny as many city employees of their disability pay and benefits as possible, regardless of whether cutting off city employees’ disability pay and benefits is justified or not. Emanuel’s workers’ compensation department is now operating like greedy health insurance companies. The goal is to deny both legitimate and illegitimate claims for the sake of reducing expenses and increasing the bottom line.Rushing mending city workers into lower paying jobs is another way Emanuel’s administration is meeting its goal of saving $15 million a year. The city is involuntarily forcing injured or ill city workers into job retraining without giving city workers enough time to fully recuperate and return to their old jobs. The city doesn’t consult or inform employees of their vocational retraining; instead the city sends injured employees to a contractor who performs job retraining on behalf of the city. Job retraining for injured workers sounds great, but when the city does it without first consulting employees or providing them with informed consent, it smacks of manipulation and deceit.

The most damning evidence of Emanuel unjustly denying disability pay and benefits are his own words. Emanuel said, “We are aggressively pursuing $15 million in savings from workers’ comp.” Emanuel made a priori decision that his administration was going on the offensive to cut $15 million without first determining where or how he could save money. Once Emanuel made the decision to cut $15 million, his hatchet men and women started to deny some city employees’ of their legitimate disability claims.

Emanuel has a reputation for being an obnoxious and aggressive politician, but usually he doesn’t come out and directly say he is planning an attack like he did with city employees’ receiving workers’ compensation. Emanuel purposely prefaced his actions with the word “aggressively” in his statement, “We are aggressively pursuing $15 million in savings from workers’ comp.” The word aggressively means, “Likely to attack or confront. or pursuing one’s aim’s forcefully.” Emanuel used his authority as mayor to forcefully save $15 million from workers’ comp regardless if it was justified or legal.

The way Emanuel proposed and spent Chicago’s yearly budget also led to the unjust denial of workers’ comp claims. Emanuel creates his budget the year before the city actually spends the money. For example, Emanuel submitted his 2016 budget to the Chicago City Council in 2015. When Emanuel decided to cut $15 million from workers comp, Chicago’s Workers Compensation Division was then forced to deny $15 million in claims so as not to exceed its allotment of money in Emanuel’s budget. Legitimate workers’ comp claims were in jeopardy the moment Emanuel reduced the Workers’ Compensation Division’s budget.

Past and Present Workers’ Compensation Investigations

Federal agents have investigated Chicago workers’ compensation two times before. The last time a federal grand jury subpoenaed six years of workers’ compensation records was in 2012. The previous federal investigation occurred in 2006 when the feds were looking for a connection between the Chicago “clout list” and workers’ compensation claims. FBI agents originally discovered the clout list on the City Hall computer of Robert Sorich, who was an aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley. About 60 city employees either plead guilty or were convicted in Chicago’s hiring and job rigging scheme. Almost one in five names on the clout list received workers’ compensation benefits.

Emanuel himself was implicated in Chicago’s hiring and election rigging scheme at two federal court trials. Federal Court witness Donald Tomczak testified that his patronage army consisting of 225 city employees campaigned to elect Emanuel to the U.S. Congress. Another federal court witness said Emanuel went out for beers with the illicit patronage workers after they campaigned for him. Emanuel’s assertion that he wants to clean up workers’ compensation is ridiculous given his previous involvement in its corruption.

Alderman and City Council Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke is the sole person in charge of processing and settling workers’ compensation claims. Burke is the man who greases and fuels the Chicago machine. At age 24 Burke took over as ward committeeman when his father died in 1968. The following year he became an alderman. Burke has held his two positions as committeeman and alderman for nearly 50 years. Burke has close to $15 million dollars in campaign funds for two jobs that pay a combined $110,000.00 a year. Many of Burke’s campaign contributions are from city contractors, city employees, lobbyists, or other people who have business with the city. Burke used his political connections and organization to get his brother Daniel elected and reelected as a state rep since 1991. Burke’s wife Anne went from law school to an Illinois Supreme Court Justice in 13 years on the strength of husband’s political muscle.

Having Alderman Burke in charge of workers’ compensation and guarding taxpayers money is like having the fox guard the hen house. In 2006 Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief of staff blamed Burke for city patronage employees exploiting workers’ compensation. There is a major problem of having Mr. Chicago politics running workers’ compensation. Burke in a position to reward the machine’s precinct workers with workers’ compensation when necessary and punish those who dare to challenge the Chicago machine. If another alderman and Burke ally such as Alderman Patrick O’Conner goes to Burke and says keep my precinct caption on workers’ compensation, you can count on Burke keeping O’Conner’s precinct captain on workers’ compensation for as long as O’Conner wants. When it comes election time, O’Conner will return the favor by supplying campaign contributions and precinct workers to help Burke’s wife and brother get reelected to the Illinois Supreme Court and Illinois House of Representatives.

In 20012 Alderman Burke denied Chicago’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson access and oversight of workers’ compensation claims. The Inspector General’s authority to investigate workers’ compensation hovered over today’s city council meeting (Feb..10, 2016) like a plague. The city council voted 25 to 23 to reduce the power and scope of the inspector general. Burke and the rest of his old guard used their influence to protect themselves and workers’ compensation from the prying eyes of the IG. Burke is truly untouchable but for all the wrong reasons.

I have been a thorn in the machine’s side. My website is one example of how I stick it to the machine when I should. I’m also CAN cable TV show producer. I have hosted many cable shows which have exposed Chicago corruption. The machine is using my unfortunate injuries to get me fired from my city job as a plumber. Had I been one of the machine’s good fellas, my workers’ compensation would continue without question. I also have a wife and five children to support.

Help Yourself, Help Me

It’s virtually impossible for one of us to take on the machine’s corrupt policies and practices. If we join together and tell our stories, we may have a chance to right the wrongs that have been done to us. If you are a City of Chicago employee who has been unjustly denied workers’ compensation or benefits, please contact me at [email protected] . I will keep your information strictly confidential unless I have your permission to share your information with attorneys, investigators, or other recognized agencies or authorities.

Links:

http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/7/71/793847/rahm-determined-to-save-15-million-from-workers-comp-under-fed-scrutiny

http://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/7/71/1316321/council-poised-approve-watered-inspector-general-ordinance