A 1930s Municipal Code Enables Workers’ Compensation Czar Alderman Ed Burke to Circumvent and Violate the Shakman Decree

Political Hacks Run Chicago’s $100 Million a Year Workers’ Compensation Program

Instead of professional employees managing Chicago workers’ compensation, only Alderman Ed Burke’s handpicked political appointees administer the program. Burke has served as Chairman of the City Council Finance Committee for 31 of his 47 years as alderman. According to Burke’s own bio, he is the man who “holds the city’s purse strings and is responsible for all legislative matters pertaining to the city’s finances, including municipal bonds, taxes and revenue matters.” The problem with Burke’s aforementioned statement is that Burke is using more than city council legislation to oversee workers’ compensation. Burke’s patronage workers administer the entire workers’ comp program. Furthermore, given Chicago’s dire financial problems, if I were Burke I would not brag about controlling the city’s purse strings for 31 years!

Municipal Code Section 2-152-430 states, “The bureau of workmen’s compensation shall be composed of such persons as may be designated or appointed by the chairman of the committee on finance.” Finance Chairman Burke let’s his website readers know that the Chicago municipal code gives him sole authority to administer the workers’ compensation program, but Burke doesn’t tell his readers that an antiquated law wrongfully entitles him to become the workers’ compensation czar. Currently Burke is the only city official allowed to approve or disapprove disability pay and medical expense payments for city employees.

There is a little or no chance of Burke hiring professional workers’ compensation employees to optimally manage Chicago’s $100 million a year workers’ compensation program. Burke’s handpick employees are mainly political insiders, or they have close ties to political insiders. Burke is an old school, “We Don’t Want Nobody, Nobody Sent” politician. Burke selects employees for his staff on the basis of their political clout or political bloodlines, not on their professional worker’ compensation qualifications.

Burke hiring and firing his staff for political reasons is all seemingly legit because the salaries of workers’ compensation employees are funneled through Burke’s finance committee. There is no debate here. Aldermanic and city council committee staff are Shakman exempt employees. However, there are legal questions about the municipal code that need answers: Does Chicago municipal code 2-152-430 that provides Burke with the authority to hire workers’ compensation employees circumvent and violate the Shakman Decrees that the City of Chicago and plaintiff Michael Shakman agreed to in federal court? Do the municipal codes 2-152-430 , 2-152-440, and 2-152-450 violate the venerated separation of powers principle that all U.S. local, state, and federal governments follow?

This is where Burke and the city run into trouble. Burke’s finance committee has no business running workers’ compensation. Burke is a legislator whose main job is to add, amend and repeal city ordinances. As a legislator, Burke is not entitled to run a City of Chicago bureau, department, or division as he is doing. Because Alderman Burke is fulfilling the executive branch’s duties and responsibilities, he is violating the separation of powers principle that all U.S. city, state and federal governments follow. The workers’ compensation program belongs in the executive branch of government since the executive branch is charged with managing city employees and programs. Burke’s workers’ compensation exempt jobs should have been classified as Shakman non-exempt jobs based on the type of work that the workers’ compensation employees are doing.

In all other major U.S. cities, the executive branch oversees workers’ compensation (see table below). As a legislator Burke should only be allowed to check and balance workers’ compensation through the budgeting process, committee hearings, city council votes, and city ordinances. Chicago would be no different than other cities if Chicago’s 80 year municipal code had not allowed finance chairman Burke to improperly run the workers’ compensation division of government for the executive branch.

This won’t be the first time public officials were caught using improper Shakman exempt job classifications. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) wrongfully classified hundreds of jobs as “staff assistants” so that politicians could fill staff assistant jobs with political appointees. The improperly classified staff assistants did little or no work related to their staff assistant’s job title and job description. Because of IDOT’s wrongful job classifications, both Governor Rod Blagojevich and Governor Pat Quinn hired politically connected job seekers as IDOT staff assistants regardless of the job seekers’ qualifications or abilities. The Chicago municipal code has allowed Burke to do the same. Chicago municipal code has turned obvious Shakman non-exempt jobs into Shakman exempt jobs by improperly budgeting workers’ compensation for a legislative committee instead of the city’s executive branch of government. The type or nature of workers’ compensation employees work is that of Shakman non-exempt duties. Burke’s workers’ compensation employees have little or nothing to do with Burke’s finance committee’s financial legislation. Chicago’s archaic municipal code stopped the city’s Human Resources Department from hiring the most qualified and abled employees from managing Chicago’s workers’ comp. The municipal code’s creation of Burke’s workers’ compensation division  is not about finding a successful loophole to circumvent Shakman, rather it’s about the municipal code and Burke’s blatant and wanton violation of Shakman and separation of powers.

Table
To view the department that each city uses to manage its workers’ compensation, click on the department listed in column two on the right hand side of the table. All major U.S. cities’ executive branches of government administer its workers’ compensation program except Chicago which Burke’s legislative committee supervises.

City

Workers’ Compensation Placement in the

New York City

Law Department

Los Angeles

Personnel Department

Chicago

City Council Finance Committee

Houston

Human Resources Department

Philadelphia

Office of Risk Management

Phoenix

Human Resources Department

San Antonio

Risk Management

San Diego

Risk Management

Dallas

Risk Management

Note

San Diego and Dallas each have separate risk management departments. Risk management is part of Philadelphia’s Finance Department. San Antonio’s risk management is under both its Finance and Office of Management and Budget departments. Chicago’s Risk Management is currently in the Finance Department. Chicago’s Finance Department is different than Burke’s city council finance committee. Ideally Chicago’s workers’ compensation would move from Burke’s legislative committee to the city’s Human Resources or Risk Management department which are in Chicago’s executive branch of government.

Once Chicago’s workers’ compensation program moves from the legislative branch of government to the executive branch of government, then the designation of workers’ compensation employees will change to the proper Shakman non-exempt classification, and the city will have to hire the most qualified and abled employees to run the program. A few policy making jobs at the top of the workers’ compensation organizational chart may remain classified as Shakman exempt.

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