SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The 124 union nurses working in Illinois prisons have received layoff notices telling them their jobs are being privatized, according to a letter from Gov. Bruce Rauner's office obtained by The Associated Press.
The notice from the Republican's administration to the Illinois Nurses Association said nurses at 12 prisons would be laid off June 15, two days after contract nurses are hired.
Alice Johnson, the association's executive director, said Rauner is retaliating because the union rejected a tentative contract agreement last year.
"It's an attempt to bully and intimidate the nurses, and it's not going to work," Johnson told the AP.
She said the move is particularly troublesome because of a nationwide shortage of nurses that forces Illinois prison nurses to sometimes work 80-hour weeks while vacant positions go unfilled.
A spokeswoman for Rauner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The letter from Ed Jackson, Corrections' labor relations chief, contends the contract with the nurses is void. But Johnson said the union and Rauner signed an agreement to abide by the terms of the last collective bargaining unit deal until a new one is signed.
The nurses filed an unfair labor practices complaint last week with state regulators, claiming Rauner is reneging on his obligation to continue negotiating.
The Illinois Nurses Association represents 3,500 nurses statewide, including 1,200 Illinois government employees. Johnson did not know why prison nurses were singled out.
She argued that a private contractor's nurses aren't subject to the same supervisory oversight as a government worker. And she said a private contractor's profit motive could interfere with decisions about staffing and quality of care.
Nationally, studies show a large pool of nurses is ready to retire in the next five years. At the same time, prison populations are aging and care is becoming more specialized.