Editorials

$15 million reasons why Illinois should control home health worker overtime

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters June 30. His order to control an anticipated $15 million overtime bill for home care workers created a union backlash. The workers care for severely disabled adults in their homes.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters June 30. His order to control an anticipated $15 million overtime bill for home care workers created a union backlash. The workers care for severely disabled adults in their homes. AP

A little short on cash this month? Need to boost your pay a bit? Maybe you can get one of these state jobs that essentially allow you to work as much overtime, or at least claim to have worked as much overtime, as you wish. Seventeen or 20-hour days at time and a half? No problem, no questions asked.

Illinois’ Home Services Program cares for 28,597 severely disabled adults in their homes. With a budget of $500 million, the cost per person is $17,484 a year companred to about $52,000 a year for a nursing home.

When the feds said the home workers should be receiving overtime pay, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration estimated the cost would be about $15 million a year. Rauner ordered that overtime be controlled and managed.

The program worked with the folks receiving care to find back-up caregivers so the primary workers would not work excessive hours and rack up lots of overtime pay. It also asked that workers justify the overtime they worked.

Vivian Anderson, director of the program, said it worked well. Workers were less fatigued and the overtime dropped dramatically, saving about $5 million so far this year.

The SEIU Healthcare Illinois union sued in Kane County over the overtime curbs, saying it was disruptive for severely disabled people to find backup workers and not enough people were willing to do distasteful work for relatively low pay. Notably, they did not assert that it was a good thing to work 20-hour days or allow overtime to go unchecked.

Rather than fight the threat to take the lawsuit statewide, Rauner suspended the rules and sent the issue to a rule-making group with members from both state chambers and both parties. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules held its second hearing Thursday in Springfield.

It is unclear how long it will take the committee to issue rules, but a long deliberation could cost the state millions. Overtime has mushroomed since August with essentially no controls in place.

People deserve overtime pay when the work is needed. However no one works without controls on how much they work, and tired workers make mistakes that could harm the people for whom they care.

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