Guest Column: Unsafe DHS building conditions ignored

Editor’s note: The following was sent as a letter to State Sen. Brad Burzynski (R-35) and other local legislators.

Dear Senator Burzynski,

My name is Merry Heard, and I am the DHS [Dept. of Human Services] Chapter Chair for AFSCME Local 448.

I have spoken with and shown you pictures regarding the deplorable conditions of the DHS building located at 1111 N. Avon, Rockford, so you are aware of the conditions, but I feel all my concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Because of this, I have decided to put in writing our concerns as it relates to DHS in Rockford.

We, as state employees, are required to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and should management feel that is not happening, employees may be disciplined. My questions to you are the following: Are you not a state employee? Shouldn’t you be held to the same expectations? Isn’t it your job to ensure your constituents are given a safe, clean and respectable environment? Isn’t it your responsibility as a representative of the people of Rockford, to stop playing the blame game and demand better for the people you represent? If so, why haven’t we, at the DHS office, heard back from you regarding the deplorable conditions? Why are we in the same unclean, unsafe, unhealthy worksite we were six months ago when I talk with you? Why is the landlord going to be paid more than $21,000 a month for rent? Can you answer these questions?

While we are working in deplorable conditions, the office continues to receive awards. The Winnebago office has, for the last few years, received awards from the Big 10 Conference based on food stamp accuracy. Management has attended the meetings and accepted the plaque on behalf of the agency. The only person to acknowledge the workers for this achievement last year was the Local Office Administrator. Our own regional administrator didn’t recognize those workers within our office for the excellent work they have done. Remember, these are the same workers who are working in a deplorable office but continue to come to work every day to make the lives of others a little easier.

The common goal for all parties should be to service our community by providing them with the assistance they are entitled to in a clean and safe environment.

The workers treat the customers with the dignity and respect they deserve, and that is all we are asking for in the Rockford DHS office—to be treated with dignity and respect from the supervisors, regional administrators, director of DHS, and you, one of the people elected to represent all of us within the office.

Do the people you represent deserve to come into a building that is unsafe and unclean? I would only hope your answer is NO.

I do believe that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, and that can start with a clean and safe building. I also believe everyone involved beginning with the governor needs to change the way they have been thinking and get back to the basics—we are where we are because there is a need for our services that should be provided to the people of the state of Illinois, and those services need to be provided to your voters in a safe, clean environment and with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Thank you.

The Department of Human Services is now known as Human Capital Investment, the agency where people apply for cash, medical benefits and food stamps.

From the Aug. 16-22, 2006, issue

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