Illinois Residents Want To Unionize Against Their Cannabis Employers

Recreational marijuana was only legalized for use in 2019, but revenue in 2020 came in at over $1 billion. That’s a major win for lawmakers looking to puff up the budget. But naturally, the chaos will follow. Now, many recently employed workers for the cannabis industry are considering joining the fight to unionize. They want what every unionized worker in the U.S. wants: higher wages and job security.

This is especially true amidst the pandemic. Believe it or not, marijuana dispensaries are filled with “essential workers!”

Director of organizing for the Local 881 district of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Moises Zavala says there’s a difference between a job and a career: “The industry has unfortunately just provided jobs, and not the well-paying careers that we all thought cannabis was going to generate.”

A unionization of the marijuana industry would be a big deal. Currently, there are “82 dispensaries, 21 cultivation centers and nearly 17,000 cannabis workers.” 

And the industry is only getting bigger.

Co-Director Martin Malin of the Institute for Law and the Workplace at Chicago-Kent College of Law said, “If they’re able to get some significant victories and negotiate some good contracts, they can build momentum, they can point to those as they organize workers at other facilities.”

The marijuana revenue at the state level was split between recreational and medicinal — but recreational provided the bigger piece of pie for Illinois, with nearly two-thirds of the revenue coming from dispensaries. 

2021 has already experienced significant growth in the sector. In the first two months alone, there was $232 million in marijuana sales. 

The marijuana industry pays on average $15 an hour around the country, and most jobs come with a benefits package as well, including PTO, medical, 401(k) and stock options because most recreational weed companies are public. 

Does COVID-19 Count As A Legal Disability In Illinois?

Recently, we discussed the legal definition of “service animals” in Illinois — and how difficult it was to find financial aid even when one of these animals is needed to carry out simple day to day tasks. Government benefits are not provided lightly, which is probably part of the reason why certain requirements of being disabled are not overtly funded through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). But what about COVID-19, a disease that can leave victims recovering for months and months?

A social security disability means that a person has a physical or cognitive limitation that affects their ability to find paying work. SSDI therefore kicks in to help fund daily necessities like paying rent or buying food. The problem is that it can take months or years for an SSDI application to be approved — and even though the Social Security Administration provides backup upon approval, that doesn’t help you during the process. 

Nursing home director of social services for a care facility in Massachusetts, Jodee Pineau-Chaisson remembers the day she received a life-changing call: “I was asked to go onto the COVID-19 units to do FaceTime calls so they could say goodbye to their family members. I was very scared.”

Even though she was 55 years old herself and therefore at an increased risk of experiencing serious symptoms if she contracted the disease, she decided to accept the task. It wasn’t three full days before she was diagnosed with COVID-19. Now, she routinely considers what happened. Maybe she was sweating too much or not socially distancing the right way.

She was hospitalized twice following the diagnosis, and took three months off of work. The Family and Medical Leave Act guaranteed that she was able to keep her job. 

Ten months later, Pineau-Chaisson is still experiencing serious symptoms of the disease. She explained, “Sometimes it can even be hard to walk up the stairs to my bedroom.” She suffered from memory loss and exhaustion.

And the scariest part? These symptoms can limit a person’s ability to work, but disability advocates still don’t have an answer as to whether or not COVID-19 “long-haulers” will qualify for SSDI.

Dr. Steven Martin for the UMass Medical School said, “If we end up with a million people with ongoing symptoms that are debilitating, that is a tremendous burden for each of those individuals, but also for our health care system and our society.”

Democrats already expect Republicans to fight any measures that would allow new additions to SSDI, which they see as an entitlement. U.S. Representative John Larson (D-Connecticut) said, “We know what’s coming. So, we have to make sure that we’re on top of this.”

Even though Pineau-Chaisson isn’t sure what the outcome will be, she decided to see a neurologist to facilitate an application for SSDI. Most applicants who file for an application are denied. Even those who eventually get in are denied more than once on the journey there.

Disability attorney Linda Landry said, “I do think it’s still an open question. It’s still a little iffy about whether [long-haulers] will be able to qualify.”

What Is A FOID Card And Why Are They So Popular In Illinois Right Now?

A Firearm Owner’s Identification Card (or FOID Card) is needed to legally purchase a firearm in Illinois — and not so surprisingly, applications for these cards skyrocketed in 2020. Why? Well, the answer might seem counterintuitive, but Democrats have always been great for gun sales. That’s because Republicans and right-leaning Independents tend to get scared into thinking that Democrats will try to steal their guns (without any real reason for believing it), and buy more as a result.

And with Biden on fire during the majority of the primary races and for the latter half of 2020, it’s not difficult to see why some Republicans wanted to buy a few more guns. But there are other reasons. Gen Z is coming of age quickly, which means it’s time for the next generation of gun owners to make their applications. And the novel coronavirus pandemic and social unrest throughout the year couldn’t have hurt either.

A new Illinois bill seeks to remove the FOID card requirement, though. Representative Andrew Chesney (R-Freeport) drafted HB 1770. He said, “My solution would be to scrap it, because most states aren’t doing it anyway. We have 46 states who are saying ‘this isn’t a good idea,’ so why haven’t we done this?”

Most conservative groups believe any restriction, limitation, background check, or delay is a denial of a person’s Second Amendment rights. 

Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson said, “What’s happening is FOID cards are coming out so slow, both on new cards and renewals, people can’t exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

And whereas the legal argument wouldn’t hold up, there have been enormous delays because of coronavirus. And not everyone agrees.
President of Gun Violence Prevention PAC Kathleen Sances said, “We completely oppose this bill and this idea. If we get rid of the FOID cards, we have 20,000 people who would have access to guns who were not legally allowed to have one.”

What Does Illinois Law Say About Service Animals For The Disabled?

A service animal is usually defined as a dog that provides a needed service for a disabled owner. For example, a deaf owner might use the animal to help keep him alert of potential dangers. A person prone to seizure might have a trained animal capable of running off to find help and alert bystanders that his owner is in trouble. The animals are extremely useful, and sometimes needed. What does Illinois state law say about service animals?

Finding financial aid in order to purchase (or rent) a service animal can be difficult. Going into a Los Angeles social security disability office won’t entitle you to any benefits you wouldn’t receive in an Illinois office, or vice versa, because social security disability insurance (SSDI) is a federal benefit. And sadly, SSDI does not entitle the recipient to a service animal. There is no specific fund set aside so that disabled folks can find what they need.

However, that doesn’t mean you cannot use the supplementary income from SSDI, Medicaid, or Medicare to help you make payments to an organization that rents out service animals or to buy and train your own. You might also keep in mind that SSDI often pays an initial lump sum to make up for the time it took for a disability benefit application to be approved — and that this period of time might have resulted in years of waiting. That means the first payment could be enormous!

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) helps define the phrase “service animal” and lays out the tasks that an animal might perform for its owner — however, the ADA does not actually provide animals or assistance to those who require them.

Keep in mind that service animals are not emotional support animals, and they are not pets. Although the government provides little oversight into how service animals are trained, they are trained. 

Although there are no local, state, or federal laws that guarantee the right to own a service animal unless you can find the means to get one yourself, the Illinois Service Animal Access Act and White Cane Law do guarantee a person the right to be “accompanied by a service animal in public.” That means that a person cannot be forced off of a public property because they are accompanied by an animal. 

According to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office: “Violation of the Service Animal Access Act is a Class C misdemeanor / Violation of the White Cane Law is a Class A misdemeanor / *In certain circumstances, businesses must also permit the use of a miniature horse.”

Private business owners are also required to uphold these laws and act in accordance with the ADA as well. In Illinois, this means that a private business owner can ask whether or not an animal is a service animal — but he cannot request proof that an animal is a service owner. The private business owner should have no expectation or right to see the animal’s documentation. The latter is one of the most controversial stipulations of the aforementioned laws.

Illinois Experiences Political Upset When GOP Chair Filled By Senator Simmons

A Democratic committee named 7th District Senator Michael Simmons to fill the seat of GOP Chair, even though the job was expected to be given to Representative Kelly Cassidy because of her experience and leadership. Cassidy was a leading voice behind the 2019 cannabis measure and competed for her current seat after it was left vacant when Heather Steans stepped down. 

Simmons became a popular choice for different reasons: He grew up in the 7th District as an African American gay man. His experience isn’t as nuanced or storied as Cassidy’s but he worked for Senator Dick Durbin, who himself works under County Commissioner Bridget Gainer.

Chicago Ald. Harry Osterman said, “It was [Simmons’s] background, who he is as a person, how he connects with the neighborhood in a very grounded way, made a huge impression on me and made a huge impression on other committee members who supported him.”

Simmons said after his appointment, “There are a lot of disenfranchised people in the community. It’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure but I feel like I’m ready. It’s a community I deeply love and I’m excited to go to bat for them.”

Critics of Simmons say he only got appointed over Cassidy because Cassidy didn’t want to wheel and deal with the Democratic committee in question. Allegedly, committee members had promised to hand her their votes if she only promised to support certain individuals.

Doris Turner was appointed to the state Senate when the seat was vacated by Andy Manar. Manar resigned after eight years of service after he received a job offer to become senior adviser to the governor. 

Turner said, “I am thankful to receive the support and appointment of the county chairs’ in the 48th district. This is an honor of a lifetime and not something that I will take for granted.” 

Car Accidents Remain A Big Problem In Southernmost Illinois

Vehicles are becoming much safer to operate in the United States: most new models come with automatic lane changing, parking, blind spot sensors, and even automatic braking. These vehicles have saved countless lives in the past several years, but there are still tens of thousands of fatalities every year. This is true in Illinois as well. Here’s what you can do to avoid an accident or lower your insurance.

Car accidents are often life-change — or life-ending — experiences. They shouldn’t be taken lightly. Of course you wouldn’t expect car accidents Los Angeles to occur at a lower rate than car accidents in a small town in Southern Illinois — but sometimes the opposite is true. Those living in rural areas believe that because they live in an unpopulated area, they can take more chances. But still, you can take precautions to ensure you have the best possible chances of avoiding a deadly accident. 

There are three main reasons that car accidents occur. The first and most problematic of the three is negligent driving, such as texting while driving, driving while intoxicated, or simply allowing yourself to get behind the wheel while too distracted to pay attention. The second reason accidents occur is bad weather. For example, there are fewer weather-related accidents in Southern California than there are in Illinois — because we have severe winter weather every year. And the third reason accidents occur is defective parts.

You can’t control that third reason, but you do have some semblance of control over the first two. You can always drive sober. You can always put down the phone while you drive. And you can always avoid driving when the weather becomes dangerous.

Another reason that accidents occur is because of wildlife. Although deer-related accidents usually don’t result in death, it does happen. If the animal survives the impact and ends up in your vehicle, it’ll go wild trying to get out. And if you’re still inside when that happens…You might not survive yourself.

It remains illegal to operate a motor vehicle without using a seatbelt, and many people are killed each year because they choose to ride unencumbered by that annoying band of material. Is it worth paying the ultimate price? We think not. Please remember to strap yourself in.

You can also enroll in defensive driving courses. These are frequently offered at community colleges or high schools, and will often drive your insurance rates lower. Many instructors start each course with one simple phrase: “You bet your life every time you get behind the wheel.” And they’re not wrong. So why take the chance that something might happen by not driving safely? Speeding or other forms of driving do not exemplify “skill,” regardless of what some people might say.

Last but not least, research the vehicle you plan to purchase. Some come with higher safety ratings than others — and you should buy one of those, especially if you’re a young or inexperienced driver. It could save your life.

When Will Southern Illinois Residents Have Access To The COVID-19 Vaccine?

The vaccine is ready and available — and those who want to receive it are getting impatient already. The problem is simple: there aren’t enough vaccines to go around. There won’t be for months. Right now, essential personnel will receive it first. That means police, firefighters, hospital staff, etc. Also at the top of the list are those working or living in nursing homes or those who are 65 and older. 

And that makes sense as the most equitable solution to the COVID-19 crisis. We give the vaccines to those who need it the most first. But the rest of us will have to wait.

Jackson County’s recent health department COVID-19 news release outlined the difficulties in simple terms: “Every person wanting vaccination will eventually be served. Please be patient and continue to take precautions to protect yourself and your family from the spread of COVID-19.”

Nathan Ryder of the Southern Seven Health Department voiced concern about the difficulties in getting the population vaccinated: “It’s hard to sit and wait. The general public doesn’t see that we are out vaccinating all day every day.”

The supply chain is getting better, but it still isn’t enough to ensure that everyone gets a vaccine before the summer months, even in mostly rural Southern Illinois. 

Southern Seven has vaccinated barely 4,000 residents in Alexander, Hardin, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski, and Union counties. The number will continue to climb, but maybe not fast enough to guarantee that residents will calm down and wait more patiently.

The supply might get a boost if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine receives emergency approval, which is likely in the coming weeks. Others could also be right around the corner.

Vaccinations have been offered at several Walgreens and Kroger locations, but most anyone seeking one of the vaccinations will have to sign up online first. And it can be yet another obstacle to get older people to sign up to come in.

Why Aren’t Bankruptcies Surging In Southern Illinois?

If history tells us anything at all, it’s that we should be experiencing far more upheaval due to the current coronavirus pandemic than we actually are experiencing. Eastern St. Louis is one of the biggest cities in Southern Illinois, but law firms there aren’t seeing as many bankruptcy cases as they predicted when the pandemic first started. Why? The CARES Act didn’t provide nearly enough aid to prevent small businesses from going belly up, so what gives?

One lawyer with Carmody MacDonald PC, Rob Eggmann, said, “It’s not up like we thought they would be, quite frankly.”

Eggmann thinks it might have something to do with the fact that while some businesses have absolutely been hit hard by the pandemic, others have actually done better than they expected.

He said, “It never got to business as usual, but businesses were operating at a higher level here in the summer and fall, until things started getting shut down again.”

Others aren’t so sure. In order to even apply for bankruptcy, you need to be taking in at least some revenue. Partner Wendi Alper-Pressman at Lathrop GPM LLP said, “You have to operationally make money” to be successful even when you’ve failed. “And until such time, bankruptcy doesn’t really help them.”

This is because even bankruptcy has its costs: hiring a lawyer, for example.

And what seems to be the case in St. Louis isn’t necessarily the case all over the country. Statewide, Chapter 11 bankruptcies rose to levels comparable to a decade ago (in the midst of a big recession) after the stimulus funds were used. Using the same index to determine the number of big business bankruptcies filed since last year, we can see that they’re up about 26 points.

Had Congress passed new bailout measures to save businesses hit by the virus, many more might have survived. About 40 percent of recent bankruptcy applications have been turned in by businesses located in the southeast, including those in the states of Florida, Georgia, and Texas, where coronavirus cases have skyrocketed in the past few months.

Bankruptcy attorney Jeremy Johnson explained, “Although it’s difficult for anyone to predict what the economy will do the rest of 2020 and into 2021, we do anticipate filings continuing this momentum as we deal with the fallout from the pandemic.”

Potential good news is on the horizon, however. Should the coronavirus vaccine work as intended — and people actually line up to take it — then we could see a sharp dropoff in the number of COVID-19 cases by the middle of next year. Congress is also attempting to pass a new round of stimulus measures, which should help keep many businesses afloat. 

This comes as new restrictive measures are being imposed all over the country as cases — and deaths — surge drastically. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to implement a mask mandate almost immediately after he is sworn in. Right now, many states have such mandates, but fail to enforce them.

Did You Know Southernmost Illinois Is Known As “Little Egypt?”

Southernmost Illinois is known more for its sightseeing opportunities (Shawnee National Forest, for example) than anything else, but we also have a distinct heritage that involves a number of myths and legends. Many residents might be aware of one of the most popular pieces of lore behind why our region is also sometimes referred to as “Little Egypt.” It all goes back to when the first settlers arrived and began to communicate with Native Americans who already lived in the area.

Because these people were very Puritan (i.e. religious), they often looked for signs from God whenever and wherever they could. It should come as little surprise, then, that they believed the way they lived in Illinois was similar to how ancient Israelites lived in Egypt. Both peoples would travel along waterways to buy and sell grain, which was a staple of life in each community. 

Also, some believe the lore arose because of the geography of the region. The Native Americans created mounds (many of which can still be found throughout the state) which seemed similar to the Egyptian pyramids.

Others believe “Little Egypt” was the result of the many Egyptian names in Illinois. Cities like Thebes, Cairo, Karnak, Goshen, etc. lend credence to this theory, but point in fact: the settlers themselves probably named these cities because of the aforementioned signs and similarities they already saw in the ways of life. So everything is interconnected, we think.

The tradition of comparison to Egypt has lived on throughout the centuries. For example, Southeastern Illinois College was built in 1960, and took a sphinx as the official college seal. Later, the pyramids were used as inspiration for the college’s official logo. The college’s sports teams also decided to use the falcon as the official mascot, which was meant to resemble Horus, who was a falcon-headed god in Egyptian mythology.

Did You Know That Southern Illinois Originally Belonged To Virginia?

Illinois was one of the great American frontiers for a long time after the land was first discovered by new settlers. And it was a strange place with useful resources. There were many natural locations suited to settlement, such as those bordering the Mississippi, Ohio, and Wabash Rivers. The state is relatively flat (in comparison to the eastern and western states) with low marshes, plenty of forests, and easy access to coal. 

Other resources were abundant. Saline County is notable because it was named after the copious amounts of salt in the Saline River. Avid hikers will know to bring their sweat-soaked clothes inside their tents because animals will find the clothes and lick them for the salt. It was for this same reason that the Saline River attracted animals like deer and buffalo. They could approach the banks and simply lick the mud.

The French first arrived in 1673 — and were welcomed by the Native American tribes who already inhabited the area (they had lived there since most likely 12,000 B.C.). They explored the region, established a military foothood, and continued to look for a way to the Pacific Ocean, which was their primary goal. These outposts were useful for those travelling out west or north to Canada.

The French and Indian War changed everything. The French lost the territory — along with the war — when the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763. Afterward, the English ruled for a short period. HIstory buffs will understand why they couldn’t hold the large region right away: The American Revolution terminated their hold in the area. In 1778, a Virginian military expedition landed at Fort Massac in Illinois. He moved on and defeated the English who were garrisoned in the area. The state government of Virginia claimed Illinois as one of its own territories.

Even that was short-lived, because Virginian authorities realized that trying to control such a large, distant land was strategically untenable — and probably not worth the trouble since it was populated by so few people. And Virginia itself didn’t hold the political or military importance it eventually would. Bigger cities like Fairfax, Virginia didn’t even exist yet.

That wasn’t the end of determining who would eventually control the territory. Illinois was added to the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 alongside Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In 1800, Illinois was part of Indiana. 

Illinois itself attained statehood on December 3, 1818. 

The state has had a checkered history. Because many original settlers were from the south, its political affiliations are split relatively evenly down the middle. During the Civil War, political strife became readily apparent even in the same families. 

It’s worth noting that slavery existed in Illinois, starting with Native Americans before settlers ever arrived, and only ending with the Civil War in all forms. When Illinois became a state, slavery was technically outlawed. But indentured servitude was still allowed, which allowed essentially the same thing.