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Statehouse

Training, Health Insurance Holding Up Contract Talks With SEIU

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SEIU Healthcare Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner recently reached an agreement with a trio of unions -- representing some 300 plumbers, machinists and engineers and operators. But he's still at odds with unions representing the bulk of state employees: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Union.

SEIU represents home care workers -- people who help the disabled and elderly care for themselves. Denise Gaines, legislative director of SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana, says now, these workers get paid to take important training.

"Everything from CPR for both seniors and children is what's provided, and also everything from how to lift a person, a senior out of a tub. How to lift and pivot. How to make sure that a homecare worker preserves their back. Because a lot of back injuries happen, where you're lifting someone, especially an adult," she said. Gaines says Rauner, a Republican who rifles public-sector unions with public denunciations of their "union bosses," wants to take that benefit away in SEIU's next contract.

Gaines also says health insurance is a point of contention; she says the governor's plan would effectively strip thousands of union members of their health care benefits.

"Our workers are low-income workers," she said, "so therefore the only option for them is to go on Obamacare. And the problem with Obamacare is that, since they have some type of employment, the rate that they would have to pay on Obamacare, would out price our members."

Gaines says that would create a "tsunami," adding that most of these workers do not get paid leave when they're ill.

When asked if the SEIU needs to give in some, given the state's finances, she said "there has not been one person in this state that said we want to cut, and make budget savings on the back of seniors, children and people with disabilities," That's where I think we all are in agreement on. So if that is the case, we are baffled by sort of how the contract negotiations are going."

She says negotiations haven't even gotten to talking about pay. How much the SEIU members make depends (for example, depending on which state agency's auspices they're under), but it's generally between $9-$13 an hour.

Rauner's office declined a request for comment.

SEIU's last contract expired in July; the union and the administration have agreed to extend it indefinitely while talks continue.

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