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Budget Impasse Could Hit Student Workers

About 260 Northeastern Illinois University students may be forced out of their campus jobs.

That’s because of a new rule put in place as a result of the ongoing Illinois state budget impasse - and it has implications for every public university in the state.


Since January First - Illinois universities haven’t been getting any state money.

To save cash - NEIU is asking its staff to take furlough days. But a new state rule put in place in December makes that process more complicated.


The rule says if a university is going to have its employees take unpaid days off...then the school has to prove its doing what it can to save money by first kicking students out of their part-time university jobs.

NEIU is the first test case of how the rule works. And President Richard Helldobler says it’s keeping him up at night.

HELLDOBLER: I can’t figure out right now a way around it. And I just find that exasperating.


NEIU has had many problems because of the budget impasse. It has a 17 million dollar budget shortfall. It cut 100 positions. Last year - the university made its workers take about six unpaid days off.


But unlike last year - Helldobler says thanks to the new rule - this year’s furloughs will force the university to terminate 260 student workers.


HELLDOBLER: It’s hard looking your community in the eye and saying, ‘I’m sorry for the second year in a row you’re gonna have to take a pay cut.’ It’s harder to look into a student’s eyes who are really trying to get through school and saying, ‘I’m sorry. I have this stupid rule. I have to follow it and I may have to lay you off.’ That’s wrong.


VILLALOBOS: I think it just sucks all around to be completely honest. I think it just sucks all around and nobody should have to feel like they have to lose pay when they deserve to be where they’re at.


Tasiana Villalobos is a full-time student set to graduate from NEIU in the Spring. Until then - she’s working two jobs at the university. One answering the phones, and the other tutoring students to help them with their writing.


Villalobos says if she loses her job - it’d mean taking a hit on buying some things she likes for breakfast. She could ask for more hours at her third job at Home Depot.


But the money is not what upsets Villalobos. It’s that she and other tutors would lose out on the work experience of helping other students.

VILLALOBOS: Having financially things being taken away from you, having support being taken away from you in an environment where it shouldn’t is uncomfortable to handle and grasp.


There are some exceptions. Students who get academic credit for their job or work in public safety are exempt.


If the furloughs go through and the students do lose their jobs - it’s not yet clear when or if the university could bring them back.


Jeff Brownfield wrote the rule - and he doesn’t like it either. He leads the State Universities Civil Service System, which is the office that oversees these types of university positions and policies.


He says the budget impasse has made for - quote “an impossible situation.”


BROWNFIELD: We’re just hoping that through this program, student services can be spared as best they can.


What Brownfield means is - the budget impasse is putting big pressure on schools. Entire academic programs are at risk all around the state. So Brownfield says he wants to save students’ education - even if it means cutting campus jobs.


He says this rule affecting student workers is a way to ensure Illinois universities are saving money everywhere they can before making full-time employees take unpaid days off, or worse - laying them off.


BROWNFIELD: It is at the same time for those employees that may be facing a furlough who also may have kids they’re putting through college or just kids that they’re putting food on the table.


Brownfield says labor unions that represent the university workers affected by these furloughs were a part of negotiations in writing this rule. He says the rule expires at the end of September. But Brownfield says he may recommend extending it. Because if the budget impasse continues - more universities may turn to furloughs to save money.