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Pritzker agrees to pay raises for unionized home and child care workers

Gov. J.B. Pritzker meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in February. He was joined by Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes, left. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in February. He was joined by Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes, left. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday announced he has reached an agreement with SEIU Healthcare Illinois to begin paying a 48-cent-an-hour raise — and back pay — to more than 40,000 home care and child care providers whose raises were withheld under former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration.

About 28,000 caregivers in the Home Services Program in the state’s Department of Human Services and about 14,000 child care providers in the Child Care Assistance Program will receive a 4.26 percent wage increase beginning April 1.

The pay raise was approved by the Legislature in 2017 as part of a bipartisan state budget compromise, and it was supposed to go into effect that August.

But Rauner’s argument for refusing to pay the 48 cent-raise to the employees — most of whom make $13 an hour — was that any such raise should be decided during a contract negotiation with the workers’ union, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, one of the unions with an ownership stake in the Sun-Times. That argument was rejected by Cook County Judge David Atkins, who ordered Rauner to pay up. Rauner, instead, chose to appeal.

“Today, we are putting the State of Illinois back on the side of working families, and rebuilding the vital services and the workforces that deliver them to people with disabilities, working parents, and kids in every corner of our state,” Pritzker and the union said in a joint statement. “We look forward to continuing to stabilize these programs together, and we share a commitment to fixing other harmful Rauner policies through the bargaining process. We are committed to ensuring that our child care and home care workers have the stability and training they need to provide child care for working families and to support people with disabilities across the state.”

While the new rate will be factored into paychecks on April 1, employees will receive back pay by late fall. The governor’s office said the Home Service Program workers’ back pay had been held in an escrow account holding $29 million.

Pritzker, who was heavily backed by unions during the campaign, will also soon begin negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the largest public sector union in the state. In January, the Democratic governor announced he’d unfreeze the pay levels of about 20,000 AFSCME state workers by reinstating increases they had been denied.

Rauner’s administration stopped paying step pay raises when the state’s contract with the union expired in 2015. The raises are annual increases on the anniversary of a date of hire. Some state jobs have eight steps; others have 10.

The AFSCME state bargaining committee is preparing to return to negotiations for the first time since Rauner walked away from negotiations on Jan. 8, 2016, according to union spokesman Anders Lindall. He did not provide a date for the beginning of negotiations.

Pritzker was endorsed by both unions.