By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — A St. Clair County judge has ordered the state to pay its health insurance contributions for home health care workers.
The request for that order was filed earlier in November by the union that represents the workers, SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana.
The union argued the state had failed to make its contributions to the health fund for home care workers represented by the union. In doing so, the union argued, the state breached its contractual obligation.
The union said the lack of payments — which the state attributed to a lack of fiscal year 2016 budget — put the workers in danger of losing their health insurance after Dec. 31. The workers are eligible to participate in the health insurance fund by way of the state’s contract with SEIU.
The union said the state owed the fund $1.5 million for fiscal year 2015 and $11.8 million through October for fiscal year 2016.
In his order filed Wednesday, Circuit Judge Robert P. LeChien agreed and ordered the state to make all contributions owed through October 2016. He gave the state 10 days to comply. Further, the judge said, the state must make continuing monthly payments.
LeChien criticized Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration and the Legislature for inaction to date.
“This lack of ability of the governor and the General Assembly to perform duties makes essential services and assistance headed for a chaotic bust,” the judge wrote. “Payment out of pocket for medical services and medication dooms the financial survival of employees and their families.”
“While the employees have complied with the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) in all respects, the fiddle while burning posture of the other branches of state government provokes the judicial branch to act to preserve the status quo because it is necessary for the state to secure the financial stability of the SEIU Health Fund for 2015 and 2016,” LeChien wrote.
SEIU Healthcare Illinois applauded the decision. In a prepared statement, President Keith Kelleher called the ruling “another major rebuke to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s extreme agenda and another example of Rauner’s failure in leading and managing Illinois’ finances, contracts and basic state operations”
Asked for its reaction, the Rauner administration replied in an email:
“Payments could not be made due to a lack of appropriation authority, which was caused by the failure of the Democratic majority in the legislature to pass a balanced budget. The state has been represented by Attorney General (Lisa) Madigan on this matter and is in the process of complying with the court order.”
Illinois News Network’s request for comment from the comptroller’s office, also a defendant, was not answered Monday.
The attorney general’s office released the following statement Monday night:
“As we have repeated for months now, the state is in urgent need of a responsible, balanced budget that that gives Illinois’ most vulnerable residents and those who care for them the certainty they deserve. The governor and members of the General Assembly owe Illinoisans more than a series of court orders.”
The union’s request for a restraining order was filed in St. Clair County as part of an existing lawsuit by several unions against the state, Case No. 15-CH-475. A copy of the temporary restraining order is available on the SEIU website.
llinois is entering the sixth month of fiscal year 2016 without a budget as the first-term Republican governor and Democrats who have supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly remain at impasse.
Rauner and the four legislative leaders are scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon in Springfield.
Illinois News Network Reporter Greg Bishop contributed to this report.