On Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, a column appeared on the Opinion page of The Herald-News entitled “Political sweetheart deals are questionable” – written by the Illinois Policy Institute’s Scott Reeder. Mr. Reeder bills himself as a “journalist” for IPI – an anti-union policy organization that has received significant funding from Gov. Bruce Rauner himself. He is not a journalist.
Reeder makes numerous unfounded attacks on a contract that provides health insurance to some 5,250 home health care workers across the state of Illinois. The central claim in his piece is that taxpayers are being compelled to contribute to a union health care fund from which many people are not actually collecting benefits.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Under the contract, which Mr. Reeder obviously did not bother to read or willfully chose to distort, the state contributes funding to a small portion – approximately 20 percent – of home health care workers who work full time or close to full time, with a specific numerical cap of 5,250 workers covered under the program. To be clear, that’s out of approximately 25,000 such workers statewide.
Under a different contract, all 25,000 workers might qualify for the program, which provides lifesaving health care to relatively low-wage workers in an industry with an incredibly high rate of turnover. But the contract stipulates that the state fund will cover only up to a maximum of 5,250 workers.
Here’s where the sleight of hand by Mr. Reeder begins. The state’s preferred method of accounting is to add the amount necessary to provide health insurance to these 5,250 individuals to the hourly rate that all 25,000 home health care workers are paid, as opposed to paying a lump sum per individual who is covered by the program.
Because of this accounting method, it may appear to those who don’t understand the contract – or are seeking to deceive an audience for partisan political purposes – that everyone is being charged for health insurance. Indeed, Reeder concludes by noting, “At least on the surface, it would appear the contract has the state paying 80 percent more than it should.”
And in fact, if one were willfully trying to distort the truth to smear organized labor, as it is apparent that Mr. Reeder and the Illinois Policy Institute want to do, it could be made to appear that way in print – as Mr. Reeder convinced a number of media outlets to allow him to do in his column.
Independently, the widely-respected Illinois political reporter and author of the blog Capitol Fax, Rich Miller, took a closer look at Mr. Reeder’s claims and found them to be entirely without merit.
Unfortunately, these attacks against our workers by Gov. Rauner and IPI are not isolated incidents, nor is their timing a mere coincidence. A St. Clair County judge recently ruled that Rauner was illegally denying $13 million in payments for these workers’ health insurance and issued an order requiring immediate payment.
And despite his efforts to appear to be negotiating in good faith with state workers, Rauner continues privately to attack these very health benefits at the bargaining table. Columns like Mr. Reeder’s only seek to supplement those attacks in public. It should be no surprise at this point that Illinoisans distrust this governor and his agenda, which is having devastating effects on working families.
• James Muhammad is the vice president of the Service Employees International Union for Illinois.