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Illinois Union Bargaining Rights May Be On The Table

Lynn in the hospital (Photo by Carol Buckley)

Carrie Leljedal’s son Lynn is a social boy who likes to spend time on Facebook and play the videogame Warcraft, like many other 23-year-olds.

Except that Lynn has Sturge-Weber syndrome, a debilitating disorder that causes him to experience constant seizures and requires him to have a personal care assistant.

A resolution proposed last Thursday by House Speaker Michael Madigan might take that caregiver out of Lynn’s life.

The resolution (HJR45) advises a cap on bargaining rights for state-employees, including childcare workers and those who care for the elderly and disabled.

Carrie Leljedal worries her caregiver will not want to provide the intense care her son needs for a base minimum wage pay.

“My son requires full-time care, and really, who’s going to want to do that for minimum wage?” she said.

If Lynn no longer has a personal caregiver, his mother said he will most likely have to be placed in a nursing home.

“He’s not nursing home material. He will die,” said Lynn’s current care assistant, Carol Buckley.

Both Buckley and Lynn’s mother said Lynn is a social young adult who needs the freedom that they say comes with living at home.

“They [a nursing home] would take care of him medically. But, you know, there’s also the social and mental aspects of it,” Leljedal said. “If you sat and talked to my son, you would never know his IQ was down as low as it is.”

Rep. Sandra Pihos (R-42nd District), the Republican spokesperson for the Illinois House Committee on Disability Services, said lawmakers don’t have the power to make decisions about  Illinois workers’ salaries.

“Maybe there’s a way for us to have some oversight to approve something, but I don’t think we can dictate to the governor who negotiates the collective bargaining agreements with the unions,” she said.

Pihos also said while Gov. Pat Quinn is ultimately responsible for state workers’ salaries, he needs to be fiscally responsible.

“I think there has to be enough flexibility for the governor to negotiate, and those negotiations have to be reasonable within the given revenues that we have,” she said.

Rep. David Harris (R-66th District) said while legislators technically can’t force Quinn to cap bargaining rights, the passing of a joint resolution would make a loud point.

“If it’s passed by the House and the Senate, I think it sends a very strong message to both the governor’s office as well as to the union bargaining groups,” he said.

Members of Service Employees International Union Illinois were in Springfield last week to protest the resolution.

Gail Hamilton is a certified personal care assistant who lives in Decatur. She’s about to turn 50, and this year, she was finally able to put a down payment on a small house.

“And it’s not even a house-house, but it’s a start, and it’s something I didn’t have,” she said. “And now, if this cap happens, there’s no opportunity for people to improve their lives.”

Hamilton said she also does not have any health insurance.

“It’s like penalizing unions for wanting to have what everybody else has,” she said.

SEIU Illinois members at the Capital (Photo by Chloe Riley)

A cluster of SEIU members protesting Madigan’s proposal said they thought the resolution echoed recent Wisconsin legislation, in which union bargaining rights were taken away for most public employees.

That bill caused Wisconsin Democrats to flee the state to avoid a vote, only to return after Gov. Scott Walker threatened their jobs.

That led to mass union protests in Wisconsin.

Like Walker, Speaker Madigan said his major concern lies with balancing the budget.

“We can stand on the sidelines, or we can interject ourselves now and be present through the negotiations so that our position is known and understood,” Madigan said last week.

Rep. Esther Golar (D-6th) said she thinks Madigan is being fiscally cautious.

“I think the speaker is just trying to protect us in terms of the budget and keep us on point,” she said.

Golar, who is House chairwoman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, said the bill came up very suddenly.

“Everybody has mixed opinions about it,” she said. “We did instruct our caucus to read over it and make sure they have a full understanding of this piece of legislation and possibly the unintended consequences of it.”

Christina Brey, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, Wisconsin’s largest teachers union, said she thinks the budget is far from being the central issue, both in Wisconsin and Illinois.

“It was never about balancing the budget,” she said. “This is all about a move towards privatization and a move towards weakening unions.”

Carol Buckley, Lynn’s care assistant, said the right to bargain for wages is crucial to the power of a union and should not be taken away.

“We only want what we were promised — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s all we want,” she said.

The House Revenue and Finance Committee will review the resolution Nov. 3 at 2 p.m.



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