SPRINGFIELD (ILLINOIS CAPITOL BUREAU) -- The Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission has approved an emergency rule to help essential workers. Implementing the rule creates an automatic presumption that employees diagnosed with COVID-19 contracted the virus at work. Many health care providers and first responders on the front-lines of the COVID-19 pandemic appreciate the move.
"In Illinois, the on-the-job illness and injury rate for nurses is 7.9 per 1,000 RNs," said Illinois Nurses Association Executive Director Alice Johnson. She explained nurses risk their own health and safety, as well as the safety of their families. "Sadly, we have seen some employers argue with nurses about where they became infected, completely ignoring the obvious risk created by the work they do everyday," Johnson said. The union says nurses shouldn't have to deal with the consequences of becoming infected with COVID-19 on their own. Johnson noted over 200 doctors and nurses across the world have lost their lives due to the pandemic.
Firefighters and EMTs also welcome the emergency change. As of Tuesday, 93 members of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois have tested positive for novel coronavirus. 184 other members are in quarantine. "Each one of us took an oath and swore to protect the members of our community," said Chuck Sullivan, Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois President. "It's comforting to know that through this emergency amendment...the state of Illinois will be there for us."
"Putting their finger on the scale"
However, a group of nine Illinois employer organizations oppose the Commission's move to help essential employees. Members of the group include the Illinois Manufacturers' Association (IMA), Illinois Retail Merchants Association, and Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois. Those covered under the rule include correction officers, grocers, producers (food, beverage, and cannabis), manufacturers, and hotel employees among others. The group believes this change will significantly increase employer costs.
"This is government putting their finger on the scale, and I would note that I think they did it unlawfully," said IMA President Mark Denzler. "State government agencies can't create rules without substantive legislation behind it."
Denzler claims the Commission violated the Open Meetings Act, which requires 48 hours public notice. "As late as Friday afternoon, I was on the phone with the Workers' Compensation Commission, and I asked a question about this issue. I was told no changes were coming. So, this truly was not an emergency," exclaimed Denzler. "The Governor has been talking about COVID-19 for 30 days. Every day he's had a press conference, he hasn't talked about it."
"Pick up the tab"
Denzler says the Pritzker administration has no plans to "pull this back" or have discussions with the employer community. Although Denzler thought a compromise was possible, businesses will now start to look at possibilities for litigation. On Monday, Pritzker said the state has to protect employees "as best you can" in the middle of an emergency.
“To the extent that it is required that someone has to pick up the tab for that, sometimes that will fall on the people who are most able to pick up the tab," Pritzker added.
Now, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules will have the opportunity to approve or reject the amendment.