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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Illinois Policy Institute: SEIU-backed bill to increase pay for in-home service providers is ploy to avoid collective bargaining

Local Government

By Vimbai Chikomo | Apr 18, 2016


A bill that would increase wages and secure health insurance for workers assisting seniors is raising concern at the Illinois Policy Institute, where critics say it is just an attempt by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to avoid collective bargaining. 

Sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), and backed by the SEIU, Senate Bill 2781 proposes to incrementally increase the hourly rate in-home service vendors pay their employees providing home services to seniors over the next four years.

SB 2781 would also require the Illinois Department on Aging to pay an enhanced rate under the Community Care Program (CCP) to in-home service provider agencies that offer health insurance coverage to their employees.

During a Senate Human Services Committee Hearing on April 5, Alex Burke, legislative liaison at the Illinois Department of Aging, noted that in the first four years, the fiscal impact of the bill would be $1.1 billion, plus an additional $50 million in the enhanced rate for health care coverage.

“I was actually in the Senate Human Services Committee the day that they passed three similar bills out of committee -- all involved primarily with legislating what would otherwise be in the SEIU’s contract for care providers,” Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice president of the Illinois Policy Institute, told North Cook News.

Rasmussen said the committee quickly voted on the bill without much conversation about what this would really mean for the state long-term considering Illinois can’t even pay its current bills.

“My (issue) here is that in increasing the wages are they actually going to have the unintended consequence of having fewer people who can then provide care? If you are increasing costs and you have a set amount of dollars, that means fewer people get care and that could mean some people don’t get the care they need,” Rasmussen said.

What disturbed Rasmussen the most about SB 2781 was the mandate that there be in-person training.

“I thought to myself, why are they so focused in in-person training when we have the internet; you do your taxes online, you register your car online. (Why) are they so focused on in-person training?” Rasmussen said. “Well, the SEIU contract guarantees the union half an hour of time at these training to push union membership. And this really matters to the union because in the wake of the court case Harris v. Quinn where providers no longer had to pay full dues to the union, you (have) seen thousands and thousands of providers opt out.”

In Harris v. Quinn, a group of Rehabilitation Program workers brought a class-action suit against SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana (SEIU–HII) and other respondents in Federal District Court, claiming that the Illinois’ Public Labor Relations Act (PLRA), which permits employees to join a labor union and engage in collective bargaining, violated the First Amendment by imposing a fee on employees who did not wish to join a union.

The district court dismissed the claim, but the 7th Circuit affirmed that homecare service providers were state employees, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from home health care providers who do not wish to join or support a union.

“In the daycare unit, two out of three providers opted out of SEIU," Rasmussen said. "One out of two personal assistants have opted out of SEIU. So SEIU is looking for ways to have the taxpayer underwrite their organizing efforts and I think that is wrong." 

Since providers are busy caring for people often in the home, taking them away from their clients to complete training that could just as easily be done online seems like “a massive waste of everyone’s time,” Rasmussen said.

“Normally things like wages and health care coverage and all of those other aspects are dealt with in ongoing bargaining situations continuing even today,” she said.

Instead, SEIU is trying to circumvent the established negation process and use legislation to achieve what they want.

“We have collective bargaining for a reason, and I think that they are trying to do an end run because they are not getting what they want out of the collective bargaining session,” Rasmussen said.

The committee voted in favor of the bill by a 6-3 vote, which Rasmussen found concerning because legislators don’t seem to be consistent. On the one hand, they express concern over the state’s budget, but then pass bills that will cost the state millions, even billions, in new spending without hesitation.

“So there is a real disconnect here from the legislators who are saying they are worried about the budget and then billing new spending when we can’t afford what we already have," she said.  "There is a big disconnect there, and I think it deserves more attention."

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Council on AgingIllinois Policy InstituteService Employees Union Local 73

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