Workers’ minimum wage, comp plan rejected
By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – Governor Bruce Rauner has callously vetoed three important worker protection bills backed by the Labor Movement: a new state minimum wage, reduction of workers’ compensation premiums for employers and setting limits on privatization of government services.
Rauner recently vetoed the much-needed minimum wage bill that will hurt tens of thousands of llinois’ underpaid workers; on Aug. 18 he vetoed the two other worker-related bills, leading the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat J.B. Pritzker to make up a new nickname for him – Governor Veto.
“Bruce Rauner has earned himself the title of ‘Governor Veto’ as he continues standing in the way of any efforts to move Illinois forward,” said Pritzker campaign spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh.
“After vetoing bill after bill, Rauner is unable to name a single accomplishment, and Illinois families continue to pay the price.”
One of the bills, House Bill 2622, was designed to solve the state’s workers’ compensation dilemma by creating a non-profit compensation insurer to provide lower premiums, the Illinois Employers Mutual Insurance Co. It would provide a cost-effective alternative for businesses facing stubbornly high costs from private insurers, supporters said.
The non-profit company would pass along savings created by the 2011 workers’ compensation reforms, which so far have been swallowed up by insurers as extra profit instead of being passed along as lower rates to employers.
The company could sell the same insurance as for-profit companies but would be committed to providing better value for businesses, not profits for investors, possibly pushing for-profit companies to offer better rates as well.
Twenty other states have similar, state-charted insurance companies, among them Missouri, Texas, Kentucky and California.
The bill was passed April 27 in the House on a strict party line vote of 67-51. Every Democrat voted for it, and every Republican voted against it. The Senate was similar, passing it 32-20. Every vote for it was from a Democrat except one – Senator Sam McCann (R) of nearby Plainview, who often votes with Democrats on measures affecting workers and their unions.
Rauner supports reducing workers’ compensation rates by cutting benefits, leaving injured workers hung out to dry. But creating a new government entity to reduce costs doesn’t seem to appeal to the governor nor any Republicans besides McCann.
Chief Senate sponsor Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) said Rauner rejected a chance to help his own supporters in the business community to instead protect the insurance industry.
“For two years, we’ve heard Governor Rauner beat a drum about how important it is to reform workers compensation,” he said. “When given that opportunity, he maintains the status quo – choosing instead to protect the insurance industry and punish injured workers who will continue to bear the brunt of a broken system. Once again, Rauner chooses millionaires over working families.”
SERVING INSURANCE CO'S, NOT EMPLOYERS
House Speaker Mike Madigan said the veto reveals Rauner’s true concerns and that he will seek an override of the veto.
“The governor’s actions show his real agenda is not to do what’s in the best interest of Illinois employers, but only to serve the interests of multibillion-dollar insurance companies and further enrich corporate CEOs,” he said.
“Instead of helping local employers reduce their workers’ compensation insurance costs, the governor has blocked reform to protect corporate profits. House Democrats will push to override the governor’s veto and provide relief for Illinois employers.”
Rauner also vetoed House Bill 3216, intended to prevent reckless privatization of state employees’ jobs and ensure accountability to taxpayers.
The bill would set new conditions that must be met before the government could privatize services now performed by state employees, including:
• Competitive bidding process for third-party contracts.
• Demonstrated cost savings.
• Quality of service must be maintained.
• Lack of harm to affirmative action programs and veterans.
• Jobs remaining in Illinois.
• Benefits must outweigh the costs.
“Rauner’s veto of this incredibly important bill is disappointing but not surprising,” said John Cameron, director of political and community relations for AFSCME Council 31.
“The governor has no real interest in protecting taxpayers from irresponsible privatization schemes that hurt workers and degrade public services.”
Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) was one of the sponsors.
In what has to be one of this most callous actions yet, Gov. Rauner vetoed a bill that would have raised Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 an hour and given tens of thousands of already underpaid workers a desperately needed wage boost.
The bill would have increased the minimum wage to $9 in January and gradually stepped it up to $15 by 2022. For part-time or seasonal workers under 18 years old, the raise would have been to $12 an hour. To give small businesses time to adjust, the law offered employers with 50 or fewer workers a credit toward their income tax liability that is proportional to the wage increase.
Rauner’s veto comes as the Service Employees International Union, which is behind the Fight for $15 campaign driving many of the wage laws, plans a voter engagement effort to unseat politicians across the Midwest who don’t support labor-friendly priorities like a $15 minimum wage, union rights and universal health care.
“The millions of underpaid workers in this state will remember Rauner taking food off our families’ tables when we go to the polls in 2018,” said Adriana Alvarez, a McDonald’s worker and organizer with the Fight for $15.
Is an override possible? It’s questionable.
While the bill passed both the House and Senate on May 30 with votes of 61-53 in the House and 30-23 in the Senate (each chamber had two members voting present), a veto override would require 71 votes in the House and 36 in the Senate.
By last week, Rauner had not yet acted on House Bill 2525, which would amend the Worker’s Compensation Act to allow the Department of Insurance to review workers’ compensation insurance rates before they go into effect and reject those that are excessive.
It would also:
• Let employers save money by establishing safety and return-to-work programs.
• Make clear that employees’ accidents while traveling to or from work are not covered.
• Allow cost-sharing among employers for workers who develop repetitive trauma after changing jobs.
• Provide compensation for workers whose treatment is found to have been unreasonably delayed.
That bill was filed by Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea), co-sponsored by Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) and passed in the House April 27 on a party line vote. The Senate concurred on May 26, with McCann again voting with Democrats.
Rep. Dan Beiser (D-Alton) said the workers’ compensation bills would give employers the lower costs they want without depriving workers of proper coverage.
“In 2011, we passed significant workers’ compensation reforms, but unfortunately the savings haven’t been passed on to the employers,” he said. “Instead, big insurance companies have used these savings to pad their profits.
“Governor Rauner has been talking a lot about helping small businesses. This legislation would actually help to bring down workers’ compensation costs without ignoring the needs of hard-working men and women. This measure will help make Illinois more competitive, while also protecting the middle class.”