Illinois politics is too often a master class in masking true intentions.
A legislative push by the Service Employees International Union and some state lawmakers is one such case. Behind the curtain of Senate Bill 2931 is a greedy ploy by the SEIU to make more money at the expense of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
The bill mandates that personal assistants, also known as at-home caregivers, attend an in-person training session once a year. Sounds innocent enough, right? But what happened at mandatory caregiver trainings in 2014 offers clues to the union’s true motives.
“It felt like a union drive,” said Debra Lewis. “They were berating the program, and I learned nothing.” Lewis and her husband care for their adult son, who suffered a severe brain injury as a child when he was hit by a semitruck outside their home. The Lewises receive an hourly stipend from the state to cover the costs of care – a fraction of what it would cost to house their son in a state-run facility.
Joanne Kocourek and her husband care for their adult daughter, who has two severe genetic disorders. “There was a very strong push to support the union,” Kocourek said of the mandatory half-day training in 2014.
“We had to go. For us it was really frustrating because we had to find someone else to be with our daughter,” she said.
Why was the union pulling parents away from loved ones who need around-the-clock care? The answer is cash.
Per the union’s contract with the state, which expired June 30, 2015, SEIU received a captive audience for a 30-minute membership drive during training.
The SEIU is clearly desperate for new money after a massive loss of revenue over the last two years.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Harris v. Quinn that the SEIU could not force caregivers to pay money to the union as a condition of receiving payments from the state. Since then, nearly 12,000 Illinois caregivers have stopped paying the union, and the SEIU has collected $4.4 million less than if dues and fees had stayed constant.
When the SEIU fails to make caregiver interests a top priority, it’s unsurprising that nearly half of caregivers statewide aren’t union members. Teaming up with lawmakers to require family members to put their loved ones in strangers’ hands to attend an in-person training session is just one example of this.
A recent policy change at the state level offers another tragic case study of union politics.
The SEIU has long lobbied the federal government to extend the federal minimum wage and overtime pay to at-home caregivers. It succeeded in 2015 when a federal appeals court upheld labor rule changes that mandate overtime pay for this group.
But the SEIU’s win was a crushing loss for many family caregivers.
In the most fiscally sick state in the country, the ruling left Illinois with little choice but to mandate fewer hours per week for caregivers to avoid costly overtime pay. The change, which the state is in the process of implementing, would force many family members to hire outside help to care for a loved one when they would rather provide that care themselves.
“They cry out for higher wages and they hurt the families that want no part in this political power play,” Lewis said of the SEIU. “I am so very thankful for what we have. The greed and power this union has sickens me.”
Kocourek shares Lewis’ frustrations.
“Every time they fight for raises and more benefits and win, my daughter loses hours of service,” she said. “They’re not fighting for what’s in the best interest of our loved ones, they’re fighting for what is in the best interest of the union.”
Stories from parents across Illinois and bleeding revenues indicate the SEIU is failing. And if past is prologue, residents can expect the union and its chosen state lawmakers to continue pushing to keep the SEIU relevant, to the detriment of families.
Austin Berg is a writer for the Illinois Policy Institute. He wrote this column for the Illinois News Network, a project of the Institute. Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.