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Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018 12:08 am

Overtime woes for Illinois caregivers

People with disabilities, caregivers and other advocates gathered on Dec. 7, 2017, to protest the overtime policy.

 

Caregivers in Illinois face possible suspension following changes to their overtime policy.

The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) established a 45-hour per week maximum for personal assistants (PAs) of people with disabilities back in 2015. The department began issuing notices of violation, or occurrences, last fall.

According to Service Employee International Union (SEIU) Healthcare, of which PAs are members, roughly 8,500 people in Illinois require over 40 hours of care a week.

“Obviously, it’s not just workers who are impacted by this,” said Kaitlin DeCero of SEIU Healthcare. “It’s people with disabilities as well.”

On Tuesday, IDHS Deputy Director of Communications Patrick Laughlin said that people with disabilities “have seen no reduction in the amount of service hours in their plans.

“Ninety-four percent of caregivers are successfully working in accordance with the overtime rule and many customers are seeing the benefits of hiring and training backup caregivers,” he said.

According to the new policy, occurrences operate on a three-strike system. As workers understand, a third occurrence will result in a 90-day suspension from work.

As of January 2018, IDHS issued third occurrences to at least 60 people. However, the occurrences did not include a suspension letter.

“A huge issue is miscommunication,” DeCero said. “Effectively, these [third occurrences] are being interpreted as suspensions to a lot of people.”

Suspensions, according to DeCero, are essentially terminations, as “no person with a disability can wait for a worker for three months.”

“This policy has been confusing from the beginning,” said Cardean Jenkins, a personal assistant, “and no one in the [disability] office seems to have any answers to my questions.”

When IDHS implemented the policy change, SEIU filed a lawsuit alleging that the implementation violated state law, as it took place without bargaining with the union. The Rauner administration implemented the policy through the administrative rulemaking process, avoiding the union.

In September 2017 a judge ruled that the administration violated state law, noting that the policy change was a matter of mandatory bargaining.

IDHS appealed the ruling, taking the case back to court.

“IDHS vehemently denies that any violations of labor rules took place in the implementation of these rules, and we have submitted our position to the Illinois Labor Relations Board,” Laughlin said.

A new ruling has yet to be delivered.

In the meantime, IDHS continues enforcement of the overtime policy by issuing occurrences and potentially suspending workers.

SEIU and other advocates rallied at the Thompson Center in Chicago last December, calling for an end to the overtime policy.

“We believe that we can find middle ground on this,” DeCero said. “We just need that willingness from the state’s side.”

Megan Swett is an editorial intern for Illinois Times through the public affairs reporting program of University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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