Chicago-area hospitals that serve low-income patients say they won't survive under the proposed "fair workweek" ordinance.
The measure, which would require Chicago employers to schedule workers two weeks in advance and pay them for last-minute changes, is set to be heard July 22 by the City Council's Committee on Workforce Development. Since the ordinance was first proposed in 2017, hospitals have asked for exceptions due to the unpredictable nature of their work, with patient volumes changing from shift to shift.
Now 11 safety-net hospitals, which treat large numbers of Medicaid and uninsured patients, say complying with the rule would mean a collective $30 million loss. For some, it would require cutting services and staff. For others, like South Shore Hospital, it would mean closing.
As costs continue to exceed revenues, the South Side hospital has reduced its workforce 24 percent to 340 employees since 2015, CEO Tim Caveney said.
"We've cut services as much as we can without harming the community," Caveney added. "If this (measure) drives our salaries up 5 percent, another $1 million, without funding from the state, we'll be closing. We won't have the money to survive."
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whose mother worked in mental health hospitals and nursing homes, said yesterday in an opinion piece for the Chicago Sun-Times she plans to get the rule adopted as quickly as possible.
In addition to hospital employees who earn less than roughly $50,000 a year, other covered workers include those at restaurants with at least 250 people and 30 locations worldwide. Under the rule, employers could be fined up to $500 per worker for failing to set schedules at least 14 days in advance. Workers could also collect at least partial pay for hours canceled with less than 24 hours' notice.
The Fair Workweek ordinance "aims to remedy the kinds of challenges my own parents faced as low-wage, hourly workers, juggling unpredictable work schedules, changing shifts, child care and other responsibilities," she said. "The status quo is not working for our communities."
In a letter to Lightfoot's office this month, the 11 safety-net hospitals asked to either be exempt from the ordinance or have all associated fees and penalties removed.
"We understand the nuances of the ordinance, but it doesn't come with any funding for safety-net hospitals that can't predict patient volume," Loretto Hospital CEO George Miller said. He added that the Austin neighborhood hospital is currently staffing up as it prepares to treat additional patients over the weekend due to extreme heat.
In addition to South Shore and Loretto, the safety-net hospitals pushing back against the rule include Garfield Park Behavioral Hospital, Hartgrove Behavioral Health System, Jackson Park Hospital & Medical Center, Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, Norwegian American Hospital, Roseland Community Hospital, St. Bernard Hospital, Swedish Covenant Hospital and Thorek Memorial Hospital.
The Illinois Health & Hospital Association previously requested all its local members be exempt from the measure. It's now focused on recommending compromises—such as creating a voluntary list of workers who agree to take additional shifts and limiting penalties to employers who repeatedly violate the ordinance—to help hospitals deal with unforeseen circumstances.