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Budzinski tours ag research at U of I and visits with laid-off Akorn workers in Decatur

U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski speaks with staff member David Drag at RIPE, a photosynthesis research facility at the University of Illinois Research Park in Champaign.

U.S. Representative Nikki Budzinski visited the University of Illinois Research Park in Champaign on Thursday. But first, the central Illinois Democrat stopped in Decatur, where more than 400 pharmaceutical plant workers had been abruptly laid off.

The laid-off workers had been employed by Akorn Pharmaceuticals. The Gurnee-based specialty and generic drug maker had announced just the day before that it was closing its U.S. operations.

Budzinski traveled to a job training center in Decatur to meet with some of the workers who had been laid off by Akorn. The Springfield lawmaker said she was outraged by the company’s handling of its closure.

“There was a woman that was at the WorkNet facility that I visited in Decatur today,” said Budzinski. “Been there for multiple decades, was in tears. Because this company left her in the middle of the night with no severance, health insurance that’s going to expire at the middle of next week.”

In addition, Budzinski said the sudden layoffs, may have violated Illinois law.

“The state actually requires a company to give the community that is going to lose that presence, that footprint, those jobs, a 60-day notice,” said Budzinski. “This company did it in the middle of the night.”

Akorn Pharmaceuticals had been struggling with financial problems for several years. The layoff announcement came with an announcement that the company was filing for Chapter Seven bankruptcy.

Budzinski said she was impressed by the quick efforts of Decatur area officials to help laid-off workers get assistance and find new jobs.

Akorn had acquired the former Taylor Pharmical plant in Decatur in the 1990s. Taylor Pharmical was founded in Decatur in 1948, and moved to the plant’s current location in 1977.

Biotech Projects in Champaign

Budzinski made her comments about Thursday’s Akorn shutdown in Champaign that same day, during a visit to the University of Illinois Research Park.

Budzinski represents Illinois’ 13th Congressional District, and has been in office for less than two months. She just recently received her subcommittee assignments. Those include three House Agriculture subcommittees devoted to rural development, commodities and biotechnology.

Budzinski says biotechnology was the focus of her visit to the U of I research park, where she toured the Archer Daniels Midland Science and Technology Center, and the RIPE facility. RIPE stands for Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency. The University of Illinois is one of several partners involved in RIPE, which is working on ways to improve photosynthesis in crops, thus boosting their yield.

“They’re looking at photosynthesis and how it can produce, potentially, more bountiful soybeans within Illinois,” said Budzinski. “And soybeans and corn are two of our top commodities.”

Budzinski says the House Committee on Agriculture will have its first hearing of the new Congress this week and is just beginning its work on the new Farm Bill. She says she is optimistic that agriculture is one area where Democrats and Republicans can work together.

“I think agriculture is one of those issues that is still bipartisan,” said Budzinski, “that we can work together as Democrats and Republicans to deliver for the communities that we’re representing.

Budzinski’s 13th District strings together urban areas in central and southern Illinois, from Champaign-Urbana, through Decatur and Springfield, to the Metro East suburbs of St. Louis. But despite its concentration of urban areas, Budzinski says the 13th district also includes some 3,000 family farms, making agriculture an important topic for her.

Concern about Speaker’s release of Jan. 6 video to Fox News host

Budzinski says she’s starting to establish friendships with her fellow committee members, including Republicans. But one Republican she is critical of is House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Budzinski says she found last week’s news reports that McCarthy had released January 6th security video to Fox News host Tucker Carlson “deeply disturbing.” She says she hopes nothing improper was done by the speaker in providing Carlson with thousands of hours of video from the 2021 attack on the U-S Capitol Building.

“What I’m concerned about and hearing this news as well about Speaker McCarthy is you don’t want to see this information, that type of coverage, these tapes, whatever, being politicized,” said Budzinski. “That’s the last thing we need right now.”

House Democrats have largely condemned the release of the January 6th video to Carlson. But some Republicans have welcomed it.

GOP Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina called for releasing the January 6 video to all media outlets and the public, tweeting that “Sunlight is the best medicine.”

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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