Thousands of home caregivers employed through a state program designed to assist people with physical disabilities won a victory Tuesday after a seven-month court fight to collect a 48-cent-an-hour raise that’s been withheld under by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration.
Cook County Judge David Atkins handed down a decision that can be summed up in two words: pay them.
The modest pay bump was part of a bipartisan budget compromise passed last summer over a Rauner veto. It was supposed to take effect by Aug 5.
“But the August 5 date came and we realized the governor had no intention of implementing the raise,” said Kaitlin DeCero, spokeswoman for SEIU Healthcare Illinois, the union which represents the caregivers.
Judge Atkins ruled the caregivers should receive back pay by March 21 and begin receiving their raises by the same date.
The ruling will affect about 28,000 caregivers — mostly part time — employed by the Illinois Department of Human Services through the Home Services Program.
“Attorneys for the state argued that the raise was discretionary, not mandatory, but the judge said the law was clear — it’s mandatory,” said attorney George Luscombe, who represented several caregivers who sued the state.
Attorneys representing the state also argued the raise couldn’t be implemented because the state was in the midst contract negotiations with the union.
But, going by the judge’s ruling, wages that include the raise will be the baseline for wage negotiations going forward, Luscombe said.
It’s unclear if the Rauner administration plans to appeal the decision. Thomas Bradley, a private attorney from the law firm Laner Muchin, who represented the state, did not immediately return a phone message Wednesday morning. Neither did a spokeswoman for Rauner.
“We certainly hope the administration will honor the decision and not delay this raise any further,” Luscombe said.
SEIU Healthcare is among a group of labor organizations holding ownership stakes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Virginia Grant, a home caregiver from Charleston — about 50 miles south of Champaign — and one of several plaintiffs in the case, saw the outcome as a victory for people who need the money.
“I’m very happy and excited that we won what was ours to begin with,” she said Wednesday. “Even though 48 cents isn’t a lot of money, it could be a lot for a lot of personal assistants — a tank of gas, groceries.”
Under the state program, the caregivers are known as “personal assistants.”
Grant, 61, works 25 hours a week. She helps dress, bathe and feed a woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis. She also performs a variety of tasks that include laundry, letter writing, phone calls, check book balancing and grocery shopping for a man whose physical motion is limited after having tumors removed from his spine.
Grant plans to use the extra money to put gas in her 2013 Ford Focus for the two-hour drive west to Jacksonville, Ill., to visit her sister, who’s battling cancer.