Employees of bedbug infested state office take letter of demands to Gov. Rauner

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In this March 30, 2011, file photo, a bed bug is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington. | AP

Employees of an Illinois Department of Human Services office on Tuesday called on Gov. Bruce Rauner to create a “rapid response and comprehensive” bedbug protocol after a recent infestation at one of the department’s Chicago offices.

The group, brought together by the Alliance for Community Services, brought a letter listing their demands to Rauner.

Beyond the protocol, the demands also included better communication to mitigate the risk workers face of coming in contact with the bugs, ensuring “a safe, clean accessible DHS office within a 30 minute commute of any low and moderate income community” and an accessibility review of all department offices.

The office has faced bedbug problems in the past, but the most recent outbreak started a few weeks ago, an employee at the 2650 W. Fulton Street location said. That employee, who asked to remain anonymous, filed a grievance with AFSCME Local 2858, but it took days for any action to be taken.

Three employees have reportedly being bitten, said Elijah Edwards, president of AFSCME Local 2858.

One room was fumigated, even though the bugs were found in other areas of the office. Edwards says employees were told to catch the bedbugs as proof of their existence for other rooms to be fumigated.

“This is just another example of the Rauner administration’s neglecting the staff,” Edwards said. “As one of the staff representatives told me, ‘you shouldn’t have to catch Cujo in order to prove he has rabies.’ I think it’s quite telling that the Rauner administration has neglected staff, and it’s a sad tale of the continued neglect from downstate.”

Kathy Powers, who receives her Medicaid benefits through the department, said she’s dealt with the bedbugs in the past and is afraid of going to the office for fear of getting them again.

“I just can’t imagine the creepy crawlies all over me again,” Powers said.

Diane Stokes, vice president of the local union, said there needs to be adequate cleaning of the facilities, which are only cleaned once a year, she says.

“We want a policy that’s public, so that the public is aware of what the procedure is if there are bedbugs found in an office,” Stokes said. “The city of Chicago has an ordinance about bed bugs, and I think the state should adopt an ordinance so there’s … a standard procedure on getting bed bugs under control.”

Contributing: Carlos Ballesteros & Alice Bazerghi

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