Home Health Workers Sue Illinois to Force Pay Raise

CHICAGO (CN) – A class of home health care workers and personal assistants claims Illinois refuses to increase their wages by 48 cents per hour even though the pay raise was mandated by an amendment to state law that took effect last month.

Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois & Indiana and three members filed a class-action complaint Wednesday against Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary James Dimas and Michael M. Hoffman, acting director of the state’s Department of Central Management Services.

Lead plaintiff Virginia Grant and two other state workers, Alantris Muhammad and Cynthia Sylvia, brought the Cook County Circuit Court lawsuit seeking to require Illinois to implement a 48-cent-per-hour wage increased mandated by the Illinois Public Act.

According to the complaint, the law was amended in July to include the 48-cent raise for workers in the DHS Home Services Program, which was set to take effect Aug. 5.

“Nonetheless, and contrary to Illinois statute, the DHS Secretary and CMS Director have failed and refused to implement that wage increase,” the lawsuit states. “As a result of defendants’ unlawful actions, some of the state of Illinois’ lowest paid employees (personal assistants currently make only $13 an hour), who provide the vital service of assisting people with disabilities to live safely and independent in their homes, have been denied a needed raise to which they have a legal right.” (Parentheses in original.)

Grant says she has worked as a personal assistant in the DHS Home Services Program since 2003. The program provides home care services to people with severe disabilities.  Workers include personal assistants, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, and physical, occupation, and speech therapists, according to the lawsuit.

About 28,000 providers represented by the union work in the program, and the majority of the workers are personal assistants, the complaint states.

Though the Service Employees International Union and Illinois are currently in negotiations for a replacement to a 2012-2015 collective bargaining agreement, the old wages are still in effect, the workers say.

The amendment to the Illinois Public Act mandating the pay increase passed on July 6, after both houses of the General Assembly voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the bill, according to the lawsuit.

Grant and her co-plaintiffs say the DHS has the legal authority to give the mandated raises to Home Services Program workers because funds have been appropriated for the program.

In response to the workers’ demand for a wage increase, a representative for the DHS allegedly told the union that it would implement the wage increase only after bargaining with the union.

“Just as with other statutory increases in minimum labor standards, such as a statutory minimum wage increase, DHS and CMS are not obligated to bargain with SEIU before implementing the $0.48 wage increase for personal assistants and individual maintenance home workers,” the complaint states. “Alternatively, to the extent such a duty to bargain exists under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, such duty was fulfilled when SEIU…consented to DHS and CMS implementing the wage increase effective August 5, 2017.”

DHS spokesperson Jason Schaumburg said in a statement that Illinois and unions are required to engage in collective bargaining over wages under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.

“Under that same statute, the agreements the State and the union reach over wage increases take precedence over any conflicting law. The Labor Act also requires both the State and unions to abide by the status quo while they are bargaining over a new collective bargaining agreement,” he said. “The State and SEIU have been engaged in such negotiations as recently as late last month.  The State remains willing to discuss issues with SEIU that are properly subject to collective bargaining, including wages, and calls on SEIU to use the statutorily-required bargaining process rather than seek to make an end run around that process through litigation.”

The union and its workers are represented by lead attorney Robert E. Bloch with Dowd Bloch in Chicago.

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