Illinois Senate votes to save union nurses’ jobs

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By CARL GREEN

Illinois Correspondent

Springfield, IL – State senators Andy Manar and Sam McCann are sponsors of a plan to halt outsourcing of union nursing jobs at Illinois prisons to a Pennsylvania corporation already known for safety and health-care violations.

Senate Bill 19 would protect 322 employees of the Illinois Department of Corrections, including 150 members of the Illinois Nurses Association and 172 medical technicians and mental health professions in AFSCME.

It includes the 124 nurses at 12 prisons who had received layoff notices so they could be replaced by employees of Wexford Health Services starting June 15.

The bill was approved by the Senate recently on a vote of 40-15, in somewhat bipartisan fashion, with three Republicans – including two from the greater Metro-East area – joining Democrats to approve it and three other Republicans choosing not to vote.

Manar said the bill would protect both the nurses and the prison population.

“Given the scrutiny we’ve seen of Wexford’s performance during its lucrative contract with the state of Illinois – and given Governor Rauner’s inclination to outsource every union job he possibly can – I am again proposing that we restrict the state’s ability to privatize medical and mental health services in state prisons,” he said.

“I don’t think the people of this state would embrace a policy that would have someone look 124 nurses in the eyes and say, ‘We’re going to lay you off but we want to hire you back for the very same job for a lesser wage.’ That is not a policy this Senate should embrace, and it is not a policy that I believe the people of Illinois embrace.”

A similar bill was sponsored by Manar and passed in the last legislative session but was vetoed by Rauner, and the House could not override the veto despite its Democratic majority.

Wexford is a private, for-profit corporation that provides health care services to prisons all over the country. In 2011, Governor Pat Quinn agreed to a 10-year, $1.4 billion contract with the company to provide health care in all Illinois prisons.

A BAD REPORT

By 2015, Wexford had earned a scathing report that cited sweeping problems with the quality of medical care it has offered to Illinois inmates, noting numerous examples of neglect or insufficient treatment.

The report, filed in federal court as part of a proposed class-action lawsuit, alleged problems ranging from unqualified and incompetent doctors and nurses to improper record-keeping and sanitation.

“In his quest to bust unions, Governor Rauner is potentially opening up Illinois to additional expensive lawsuits,” Manar said. “Given Wexford’s questionable history of offering substandard care while taxpayers foot the $1.4 billion bill, I think it would be best to put the brakes on further outsourcing of medical professionals for the time being.”

The bill was filed by Senate President John Cullerton. Manar (D-Bunker Hill) was the chief sponsor, and McCann (R-Plainview) was the chief co-sponsor and the only Republican among sponsors, which included five Chicago-area Democrats. Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) is the chief sponsor in the House.

Also voting for it were James Clayborne of Belleville and Bill Haine of Alton. The Republicans who voted for it were McCann, Paul Schimpf of nearby Waterloo and Neil Anderson of Andalusia in Rock Island County.

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