Illinois Senate to vote on Domestic Workers Bill of Rights bill

Domestic workers rallied in Springfield, Illinois on April 13 urging members of the state senate to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act (HB 1288). The senate plans to take up and vote on the bill on April 13.

The bill, which has already passed the state house of representatives, will extend basic employment rights such as a minimum wage, at least one day off a week, and freedom from sexual harassment to domestic workers–house cleaners, nannies, and home care workers.

Some of these rights, such as a guaranteed minimum wage, have been in place for nearly a century, but domestic workers have been excluded from these protections.

“I think that most lawmakers agree that this is a very common sense and straightforward piece of legislation, and that it will right a historic wrong for domestic workers who’ve been excluded from basic labor protections for years,” said James Povijua, the Illinois Domestic Bill of Rights campaign director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance to Progress Illinois.

Back in the 1930s, domestic workers were excluded from federal legislation that established labor standards that became the foundation of labor law.

At the time, most domestic workers were either immigrants or African American, and their exclusion was part of compromise reached to gain support of racist Southern lawmakers for laws establishing these standards.

That exclusion continues to affect the working conditions of today’s domestic workers.

Maria Esther Bolaños, a Chicago nanny, said that in order to help support her family, she has been forced to take child care jobs that paid as little as $4 an hour.

Isabel Mendez and Aurelia Aguilar, both Chicago house cleaners, said that have been the victims of wage theft.

Aguilar said that she has cleaned entire houses without being paid. In some cases, she has even been denied lunch breaks during nine-hour work days.

Mendez was fired from a job in which she was owed $10,000 in unpaid wages. The fight to win her back pay got her involved in supporting the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights bill now before the Illinois senate.

Two demographic trends are making domestic workers a growing and more important part of the overall economy.

First, baby boomers, those born in the two decades after the end of World War II, are reaching the age of retirement. As more baby boomers grow older, more will need the services that domestic workers provide, especially home health care services.

In the coming decades, the number of people in the US who are 80 years of age or older is expected to triple. Many of these people will develop health problems that will require the services of home health care workers.

A large contingent of experienced and well-trained home health care workers can help ensure that more elderly people with health problems can stay in their home and avoid going into nursing homes, which in turn will save the federal and state governments money in Medicaid payments to nursing homes.

Second, for most two-parent families, it’s not economically feasible for one parent to stay home, take care of the children, and do the work needed to maintain a home.

In many cases, both adults are holding down full-time jobs and need child care and/or house cleaning services provided by domestic workers.

Both trends are increasing the need and demand for domestic workers. .

According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, the demand for home care workers will be particularly acute in the coming years. It reports that the home care workforce is currently estimated to be 3.3 million and that number is projected to increase nearly 50 percent to 4.9 million by 2020, making it the largest occupational group in the US.

Demand for other domestic workers is also growing, but most of these workers don’t enjoy the same labor protections that other workers take for granted.

Groups of workers whose members include domestic workers have joined forces in Illinois to extend these protections to domestic workers.

They created the Domestic Workers Coalition to push the legislature to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

The coalition is composed of Latino Union, AFIRE, and Arise Chicago.

If the senate votes to pass the bill, it will be because workers in these organizations built a grassroots movement that brought this injustice to the attention of lawmakers and then made them act to correct it.


Arbitrator rules that outsourced work in Illinois must be returned to state employees

The State of Illinois recently terminated its $76.8 million contract with Maximus to redetermine Medicaid eligibility in the state.

AFSCME Council 31, the state’s largest state employees union, had called the contract wasteful.

The state’s decision to terminate the Maximus contract came after an independent arbitrator ruled that the Maximus contract violated the state’s Master agreement with AFSCME.

“The arbitrator’s order is a victory for Illinois taxpayers,” said Henry Bayer, AFSCME Council 31’s executive director. “Wasteful spending on a private contract will be eliminated, trained professionals will replace unqualified call centers, and state government will ensure that Medicaid is available to those who need it and cut off from those who don’t.”

Using a private contractor to redetermine Medicaid eligibility was a major piece of a 2012 law enacted by the Illinois Legislature. The law, Saving Medicaid Access and Resources Together (SMART), was designed to close a Medicaid funding gap.

Among other things, SMART encouraged the state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) to contract with a private company to identify Medicaid recipients who were no longer eligible or should have their benefits changed.

In 2012, DHFS contracted with Maximus for this work, known as Medicaid redetermination. To win the contract, Maximus said that it would use sophisticated data mining software to identify and recommend people whose eligibility should be terminated or whose benefits should be changed.

Maximus estimated that it would save the state would save $350 million over the two years of the contract.

But according to Crain’s Chicago Business, in February 2013 DHFS Director Julie Hamos testified before a legislative committee that those savings projected by Maximus were “too optimistic.”

As Maximus’ Medicaid redetermination project continued, other problems started to surface.

By mid-June, reports Community Media Workshop, “Maximus recommendations were rejected in 25 percent of cases where they found recipients ineligible; in cases where they recommended changes in benefit levels, fully 50 percent were found to be in error.”

In June, an independent arbitrator held hearings on the grievance filed by AFSCME. The union’s grievance charged that the Maximus contract violated the union’s Master agreement with the state, which says that work cannot be outsourced unless clear cost savings and efficiencies can be gained by outsourcing.

AFSCME argued that if the state hired a sufficient number of state workers for the redetermination project, the work could be done in-house for $18 million less than the $76.8 million Maximus contract.

During the hearing, representative of DHFS and the state did not refute AFSCME’s argument; instead, they argued that the Legislature ordered them to contract out the work and that they were carrying out that order.

The arbitrator ruled that SMART allows rather than requires the agency to contract out Medicaid redetermination work and that there was no clear evidence of savings that could be achieved from doing so; therefore, the contract violated the Master agreement.

He ordered that the contract with Maximus be terminated effective December 31, 2013.

The ruling set off loud howls of protestors from business friendly legislators, looking for ways to channel public funds into the hands of private corporations. The media also chimed in and there was pressure on Gov. Pat Quinn to appeal the arbitrator’s ruling.

In September, Gov. Quinn said that the arbitrator’s decision would be appealed, but Peoria’s public radio station reported that Gov. Quinn and his administration were warned by their attorneys that the appeal might not be successful.

In the meantime, Gov. Quinn and AFSCME began negotiations to seek a solution that would make the appeal unnecessary.

In December, the two sides reached an agreement that then was included in a December 17 supplemental ruling by the arbitrator.

According to AFSCME Council 31, the arbitrator’s ruling requires the state to use funds that have already been appropriated to hire “a sufficient number of caseworkers to return the work in-house by April 30, 2014.”

Maximus will be allowed to continue to provide data matching software and some support services until June 2015, but its role in the redetermination project will be substantially reduced.

After the arbitrator’s ruling was announced, AFSCME’s Bayer called the contract with Maximus a failed experiment that can now be replaced by a more responsible approach to finding savings in the Medicaid program.

“The arbitrator’s order will bring oversight back to state government where it is directly accountable, and save money in the process,” said Bayer.