SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Department of Human Services will hold hearings next month on its plan to prohibit overtime for workers who provide in-home care for people with disabilities.
The department implemented the policy in May in response to a U.S. Department of Labor ruling that said home care workers must earn time-and-a-half overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours per week. However, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration put the policy on hold last month just as a union representing 25,000 home care workers was readying to file a class-action lawsuit challenging it.
Terri Harkin, a vice president with the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois, said the union believes the administration acted illegally in implementing the restriction.
While the department is now seeking permission from the General Assembly’s bipartisan, bicameral committee in charge of approving such rules, Harkin said SEIU still believes its actions are against the law. The state has an obligation to bargain with the union over policy changes, she said, adding that the union has filed an unfair labor practices claim with the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
“Even if it weren’t illegal to implement this because of the bargaining obligation, they still shouldn’t do it,” Harkin said. “It’s very harmful to literally thousands of people with disabilities and some of the lowest-paid workers in the state.”
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Personal assistants in the department’s home services program earn $13 an hour, and Rauner vetoed legislation this summer that would have raised their pay to $15 an hour. The union and the administration have been negotiating a new contract for more than a year, and the administration has pushed for a pay freeze.
The Department of Human Services did not respond Thursday to a request for comment, but Secretary James Dimas told The Associated Press last month that the policy was designed to save the state money and protect personal assistants from working too many hours.
“Previously, we had people working 17 or 20 hours in a day,” Dimas told the AP. “I don’t think people are very fresh and responsive if they put in that kind of schedule.”
A department official who testified about the policy this spring before an Illinois House committee assured lawmakers that it wouldn’t be implemented “in a draconian manner.”
Ginger Grant of Charleston works for a 67-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis who is approved for nearly 60 hours of care per week. The woman already had a second personal assistant who filled in when Grant wasn’t available. When the new policy went into effect, the woman had to find a third assistant to pick up the extra hours Grant could no longer work.
Grant said that has meant the woman can no longer call her if she needs help with something like going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
“I had to cut back or I would be fired,” she said, noting that her pay has dropped by about $200 to $300 per month.
Harkin said that not all clients have been able to find extra help so easily. The turnover rate for the home care workers is nearly 50 percent annually, she said.
The department will hold hearings on the policy Oct. 3 in Chicago and Oct. 6 in Springfield.