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Union members demand stricter COVID-19 policies at City Colleges

Five of the seven city college schools — Kennedy-King, Olive-Harvey, Malcolm X, Daley, and Wright — are in zip codes with less than a 50% vaccination rate, a union official pointed out.

Harold Washington College, where the City Colleges of Chicago board meeting was held Tuesday afternoon. July 13, 2021
Harold Washington College, where the City Colleges of Chicago board meeting was held on Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
Sam Heller/Sun-Times

Several City Colleges of Chicago teachers and employees Tuesday demanded stricter COVID-19 policies and called on the school system to expand its on-campus coronavirus testing programs.

The Cook County College Teachers Union and The Federation of College Clerical & Technical Personnel also asked that officials not cut back its vaccination clinics.

“This is not the time to scale back on vaccination sites at city colleges,” Cook County College Teachers Union President Tony Johnston said at the City Colleges board meeting at Harold Washington College.

Five of the seven city college schools — Kennedy-King, Olive-Harvey, Malcolm X, Daley, and Wright — are in ZIP codes with less than a 50% vaccination rate, Johnston pointed out.

City Colleges should have a goal of reaching 80% vaccination rates by Oct. 1, which means vaccines should be offered an even greater rate than before, Johnston said.

The unions demanded that all staff and students, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks while indoors until the campuses have reached that vaccination goal.

Currently, masks are optional for those who are vaccinated, but vaccinated individuals can spread the virus without symptoms, according to Dr. Howard Erhman, a clinical assistant professor of public health at the University of Illinois Chicago.

“Masks everywhere is the only policy that CCC should adopt. You cannot know whenever somebody comes to the building who has the vaccine or not,” said Erhman, who was at Tuesday’s meeting.

The unions also asked the administration to hire experts to test ventilation systems at the City Colleges’ schools and make sure that six fresh air changes per hour occur.

Union members also asked for more sanitary conditions, as many noted there have been ceiling leaks and evidence of mice throughout the campuses, according to Audrey Butler, executive vice president of the Federation of College Clerical and Technical Personal Local 1708.

In addition to mice droppings, rodents have bit through union t-shirts and a dead mouse was found in front of a staff refrigerator, Butler said.

College Bursar Assistant III Melanie Allison said, “It’s not that we don’t want to work, it’s that we want to be at work safely.”

Chancellor Juan Salgado said City Colleges will address the union’s specific complaints raised on sanitation.

City Colleges of Chicago plans to continue following CDPH guidelines for COVID-19 preparedness and will require masks in all areas where social distancing cannot be maintained, he said.