Illinois Nurses Association lobbies for HB 5104 to protect IDOC union jobs

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
July 26, 2016

Illinois Nurses Association lobbies for HB 5104 to protect IDOC union jobs

The Illinois Nurses Association is lobbying for a bill that would force taxpayers to pay for Illinois Department of Corrections medical employees who are no longer needed and would impede the state’s ability to subcontract to improve medical services for inmates.

It appears that at least one of Illinois’ government-worker unions is at it again – placing government union jobs above what is best for the people of Illinois. The Illinois Nurses Association, or INA, appears to be undermining the state’s labor process by lobbying for a bill that would force taxpayers to pay for employees who are no longer needed.

Sitting on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk is House Bill 5104, a bill that limits the state’s ability to subcontract important mental and other health services that the state’s inmates need. HB 5104 would prevent the state from providing inmates with the best health care at the most affordable cost to the state’s taxpayers – all for the sake of maintaining existing state-worker payrolls, even if those jobs are no longer needed.

The language of the bill itself states that the Illinois Department of Corrections, or IDOC, cannot subcontract certain health services if that would result in fewer medical workers in IDOC than were present as of Jan. 1, 2016. It doesn’t matter if the prison population drops; under the bill, the state could not lower the number of IDOC employees if the state subcontracts any of the medical employees’ work.

In other words, HB 5104 would force the state to pay for union jobs even if those jobs are no longer necessary.

Illinois Nurses Association pushes union-job-protection bill to get around contract negotiations

Further evidence that HB 5104 is all about union jobs is found in an unfair labor practice charge that the state has filed against the INA, which represents state-employed nurses in a number of government agencies.

After almost a year of contract negotiations, the state and INA had entered into a tentative agreement on March 2, 2016. Based on labor law obligations, INA’s representatives were expected to then go back to INA members and advocate ratification of the tentative agreement.

But the state now alleges that subsequent actions by INA’s representatives show that despite engaging the state in monthslong negotiations, those representatives never intended to recommend that members ratify the resulting agreement – something that could be considered an act of bad faith and an unfair labor practice under Illinois labor law.

This is where HB 5104 comes in. The state’s charge against INA states that an INA representative lobbied for a provision in HB 5104 after INA negotiators had reached the tentative agreement with the state. INA wanted a provision that would prohibit the state from subcontracting work for nurses at IDOC.

According to the state’s charge, the issue of subcontracting had already been discussed by the state and INA in contract negotiations. When INA did not achieve its goal through negotiations, it made an end run around the bargaining process and went to the General Assembly to get what it wanted.

If INA’s attempted bypass of honest labor negotiations feels like déjà vu, there’s good reason.

The state’s largest government-worker union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, tried the same type of strategy in 2015 and in spring 2016. When Rauner refused to give in to AFSCME’s excessive contract demands – including pay raises of 11.5 percent to 29 percent by 2019 and platinum-level health care at bronze-level pricing – AFSCME pushed two bills that would have allowed the union to bypass negotiations altogether and force the state to cave in to its demands.

As he did with the AFSCME bills, Rauner should veto HB 5104. And the General Assembly should let that veto stand, acknowledging the bill for what it really is: legislation to preserve union jobs by hamstringing the state in its ability to provide the best possible care to inmates at the most reasonable cost to state taxpayers.

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