Other worker-friendly legislation still in question
By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – One of the pro-Labor bills the Illinois Legislature was able to pass in its spring session – to protect the jobs of 124 union nurses in 12 state prisons – was vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner.
Senate Bill 19 was introduced after Rauner announced layoffs of the nurses. His plan was to replace them with employees of a non-union private contractor from out-of-state. The nurses could have applied to get their jobs back but at lower pay and without union protection.
Senate Democrats, led by Andy Manar of nearby Bunker Hill, filed the bill to specifically ban the administration from agreeing to contracts reducing the number of state employees working in those jobs as of Jan. 1, 2016. It would protect the nurses and 198 other state workers – medical technicians and mental health professionals.
The bill passed the Senate 40-15 on March 29. Manar wanted it to be a bipartisan bill, but Republicans provided only four of the “yes” votes, including three from this area – Sam McCann of Plainview in Macoupin County, Paul Schimpf of Waterloo in Monroe County and Dale Fowler of Harrisburg in Saline County. Also voting for it were Democrats Bill Haine of Alton and James Clayborne of Belleville.
The Senate vote for the bill was enough to overturn a veto.
The House passed the bill more narrowly, 66-42, on April 6, with only three Republicans supporting it. That leaves sponsors five votes short of a veto override. Rauner provided the veto on June 2.
NOT GIVING UP
The nurses were to be replaced by employees of Wexford, which had signed a contract with Rauner to provide medical services in Illinois prisons and has been criticized for providing inadequate care.
Long before the veto was issued, Rauner backed down on the plan to lay off the nurses and instead, the Department of Corrections resumed contract negotiations with them.
The nurses are members of the Illinois Nurses Association (INA), which called on the Legislature to pass the bill even though Rauner had apparently backed down. The union said the Department had not yet agreed that it has a duty to bargain in good faith over sub-contracting.
“It remains to be seen what the Department actually intends,” the union said. “Because of this uncertainty, INA is urging all Illinois legislators to continue working to support Senate Bill 19, which would halt further privatization of Illinois government jobs, including the 125 nursing positions.”
One Labor-related bill was actually signed into law by the governor, House Bill 3044, which shifts the date on which the Department of Labor is to post prevailing wage pay rates from June 15 to Aug. 15.
The bill was designed to resolve some contract scheduling conflicts. It passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously and then was signed by Rauner on June 16.
Other worker-friendly legislation, still undetermined as of the end of June, includes:
• $15 an hour – Senate Bill 81 passed both houses on relatively narrow votes and awaits action by the governor. It would raise the state minimum wage to $15 in steps culminating on Jan. 1, 2022. It passed the House 61-53, with the Senate concurring 30-23, leaving a veto override unlikely.
• Disability workers – Senate Bill 955 would raise the base wage for about 27,000 disability workers (DSP) who now get a minimum of $9.35. The new wage would go to $15 over five years. It passed the Senate 36-20. The House has a deadline for action on it of June 30.
• Privatization – House Bill 3216 would set conditions that must be met before the government can privatize services now performed by state employees, including a competitive bidding process, demonstrated cost savings, quality being maintained, affirmative action and veterans’ programs not being damaged, jobs not moving out of Illinois, and the potential benefit outweighing the costs. It passed the House 64-52 and the Senate 37-19, largely along party lines, and awaits the governor.
• Buy Illinois – House Bill 138 would require the state to give preference for purchasing articles, materials and supplies produced in Illinois whenever feasible or else prefer items produced in the United States. It passed the House 108-1 but awaits action in the Senate.
• Property tax credits – House Bill 156 would provide targeted property tax assessment breaks for people on Supplemental Security Income, senior citizens, veterans 75 and over, and people with disabilities. It passed the House 108-1 but remains in the Senate Finance Committee.
• Workers’ compensation – A far-reaching workers’ compensation reform, House Bill 2525 passed the House 64-51 and the Senate 35-19, largely along party lines but as of last week had not been signed nor vetoed. Among many provisions, it would limit excessive profits by insurers, halt coverage for injuries sustained on the way to or from work, and allow creation of worker safety and return-to-work programs to reduce costs.
• Keep Illinois business – House Bill 3538 would require companies that accept state development aid to return it if they subsequently move their jobs out of the state. It passed the House 64-48 but did not reach a vote in the Senate.
• Employers’ Insurance Co. – House Bill 2622 would seek to reduce workers’ compensation costs by creating the Employers’ Insurance Co. to provide non-profit compensation insurance using a $10 million infusion of state money. It passed the House 67-51 and the Senate 32-20 and was sent to the governor.
A point worth noting: These bills were mainly introduced and supported by Democrats, including those serving southern Illinois and the Metro-East, and they were mostly opposed by Republicans, except for those with unanimous or near-unanimous votes.