Union representing Illinois state nurses has a history of prioritizing union jobs at all costs

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
April 28, 2017

Union representing Illinois state nurses has a history of prioritizing union jobs at all costs

Privatizing some medical services provided to inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections could potentially save the state $8 million a year. But the Illinois Nurses Association has a history of doing all it can to keep taxpayers on the hook for that money – and for union jobs that might not even be necessary.

In March 2017, Gov. Bruce Rauner informed 124 nurses in the Illinois Department of Corrections that their jobs were being privatized, or subcontracted. Now the governor has rescinded those layoffs (and the privatization of the positions) while the administration negotiates a new contract with the nurses’ union.

But while headlines focus on the short-term news on the layoffs, the real issue is the union’s refusal to accept a reasonable contract.

The Illinois Nurses Association represents nurses in the Illinois Department of Corrections, or IDOC. Unlike 20 other government worker unions that have ratified contracts with the state, INA has refused to accept a contract offer from the governor.

The point of highest contention: subcontracting medical services provided to the inmates in IDOC. INA doesn’t want to subcontract any work because it might mean fewer union jobs.

When INA didn’t get the restrictions on subcontracting it wanted through negotiations, the union switched course. Rather than working under the construct of the state’s collective bargaining laws, it started lobbying to change those laws.

In other words, INA attempted a legislative end run around the state’s collective bargaining laws. And that scheme is all about preserving union jobs – even if those jobs are no longer necessary.

INA tries to sidestep negotiations when it doesn’t get its way

In contract negotiations with the state, INA pushed for restrictions on subcontracting. When it failed to obtain those restrictions through negotiations, it decided to go around contract negotiations by changing state law.

Sitting on Rauner’s desk is Senate Bill 19 – an INA-backed bill that restricts the state from subcontracting certain health services if it would result in fewer medical workers in IDOC than were present as of Jan. 1, 2016. The bill applies even if the number of inmates drops significantly and the workers are no longer needed.

It is nearly identical to a bill INA pushed last year – House Bill 5104 – with a very significant exception: It goes even further. It still restricts subcontracting, but it also includes an incredibly broad provision prohibiting the state from ever decreasing the number of medical or health services workers in IDOC below the number of those employed as of Jan. 1, 2016 – without any reference subcontracting.

This means the state can never decrease the number of medical workers in IDOC below the numbers employed on Jan. 1, 2016, for any reason. And again, this will be true even if the prison population declines and those workers are no longer needed.

INA’s legislative attempts are all about saving union jobs

INA’s motive is clear: It wants to preserve union jobs. At a House committee meeting on SB 19, INA’s representative stated, “We want to guarantee these nurses keep their jobs.”

Further evidence that HB 5104 – and subsequently SB 19 – are nothing more than union job preservation is found in an unfair labor practice charge the state filed against INA in 2016.

After almost a year of contract negotiations, the state and INA had entered into a tentative agreement 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 alleged in its charge that INA representatives’ subsequent actions show that, despite engaging the state in monthslong negotiations, those representatives never intended to recommend that members ratify the resulting agreement – which could be considered an act of bad faith and an unfair labor practice under Illinois labor law.

This is where INA’s legislative efforts come in. The state’s charge against INA claimed 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 state and INA had already discussed the issue of subcontracting 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.

INA’s history sheds light on its legislative attempts today. It is so determined to save union jobs – at taxpayer expense – that it allegedly undermined a tentative agreement its own representatives had negotiated.

Rauner should veto SB 19 – and put an end to INA’s subversive tactics.

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