New law promotes diversity workforce on capital projects

Gov. JB Pritzker speaks to a crowd of media and elected officials June 28 during a $45 billion capital bill signing ceremony at the Joliet Waste Water Treatment Facility in Joliet.
Gov. JB Pritzker speaks to a crowd of media and elected officials June 28 during a $45 billion capital bill signing ceremony at the Joliet Waste Water Treatment Facility in Joliet.

SPRINGFIELD – Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker signed Senate Bill 177 on Tuesday aimed at ensuring minority workers have access to jobs created through the state’s new $45 billion capital improvements plan, as well as access to training for careers in construction and building trades.

The law establishes the Illinois Works Jobs Program, which makes $25 million available to community-based organizations – including public colleges and universities – to recruit new apprentices to work on construction projects. It also provides that apprentices will make up 10% of the labor force on all projects costing $500,000 or more. The money will come from the $45 billion in capital plan funding.  

The program will be overseen by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. It is also authorized to award “bid credits” – virtual dollars that can be used when bidding on future contracts – to encourage contractors to employ “historically underrepresented populations in the construction industry,” including minorities, women and veterans.

“Rebuild Illinois is the largest, most robust capital plan in state history,” Pritzker said at a bill signing ceremony in Chicago. “We’re working with our partners to make sure every community in the state benefits from these good jobs, especially those who’ve been left out and left behind for far too long.”

Language of the program was inserted into a Senate-passed bill in the House during the fall veto session.

Sterigenics suit

The number of parties suing medical supply sterilization company Sterigenics on claims that its ethylene oxide gas emissions caused serious health problems grew to 73 this week, according to a law firm representing 18 of the plaintiffs.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, chronic exposure to ethylene oxide gas can cause increased cancer risk, reproductive hazards and other major medical problems.

Sterigenics used the chemical to sterilize medical supplies at its Willowbrook facility for more than 30 years.

In September, Sterigenics announced it was closing its Willowbrook facility amid mounting pressure from lawmakers and activists from the area.

Sterigenics said in a news release at the time that it could “not reach an agreement to renew the lease on its Quincy Street facility in Willowbrook in the present environment,” and blamed an “unstable legislative and regulatory landscape in Illinois” for its decision not to reopen. 

The Chicago law firm Romanucci & Blandin announced in a news release Thursday that there are 22 new lawsuits against “Sterigenics and other parties responsible for causing leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, miscarriages and other medical conditions.”

Antonio Romanucci, a founding partner at the firm, said the “other parties” include Sotera Health LLC, which is Sterigenics’ parent company; GTCR LLC, which is a hedge fund with an ownership interest in the company; and a maintenance supervisor and operations manager from the site. The defendants vary by individual suit depending on the dates of exposure and diagnosis, he said.

There are more than 20 firms representing those 73 plaintiffs, and Romanucci said a judge ordered “any case involving similar allegations against Sterigenics be consolidated” in Cook County Circuit Court.

The suit is not class action, however, and each case will be tried individually. Romanucci said the consolidation of pretrial and discovery processes was for efficiency purposes.

Courthouse compliance

Illinois county courthouse compliance with a law requiring them to provide nursing mothers access to a private room has so far been “decidedly mixed,” an analysis found.

The state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called 77 facilities to assess their implementation of a 2018 statute which mandates circuit courthouses to offer a lactation room. It was to be fully enforced by June.

At a minimum, those spaces should have a chair, table and electrical outlet, according to the law. A sink with running water should be provided “where possible.”

Almost 20 facilities across the state lack a designated space, the report found. In 11 courthouses, parents are told to pump breast milk in a restroom, the sanitary condition of which could contaminate the milk. Another 14 buildings had an area that did not meet the statute’s requirements.

At the time lawmakers were considering the initiative, they heard stories about the spaces new mothers were offered when courthouses did not have a lactation room. One lawyer who was participating in a trial in the Jackson County Courthouse said she had to express breast milk in her car during breaks. Another said she was told the only option at the McHenry County Government Center, aside from a bathroom, was the building’s cafeteria facing the wall.

“When this law was passed, it was done with the understanding that this reasonable step recognized the realities working mothers faced in struggling to balance their civic responsibilities and duties as parents,” state Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, one of the statute’s chief sponsors, said in an email. “It is critical that all county courthouses comply with this fair and cost negligible law.”

Emily Werth, an ACLU staff attorney, said despite the “shockingly disappointing number” of courthouses out of compliance, the several courthouses “doing quite well” – those that had a private lactation room with the mandated amenities, as well as staff members educated about that space – prove the law’s requirements can be met.

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