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Union leaders want protection for ‘essential’ staff

Some workplaces are not being adequately cleaned, they said.

The CTA confirmed two of its employees tested positive for coronavirus March 24, 2020.
Union leaders representing CTA staff and other employees deemed “essential” are demanding more protective gear to guard against infection.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Union leaders representing workers judged “essential” during the coronavirus crisis called Monday for more masks and other equipment so staff can be protected against infection.

They also said some employers, such as nursing homes and the CTA, may be poorly cleaning workspaces and equipment. And they urged the public they encounter to show consideration by not getting too close, when that’s possible.

Kenneth Franklin, president of the union that represents workers on the CTA L system, said while cars are being deep-cleaned, nobody is paying attention to air filtering systems.

Franklin, of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, called for a full quarantine that would shut down L service. “I advocate for testing of my members and the environment they’re in if we’re going to move forward,” he said.

CTA spokesman Steve Mayberry said in an email, “CTA conducts regular, robust cleaning of railcars, buses and stations. Vehicles and stations are cleaned and disinfected daily, and vehicles also receive regular deep cleanings. City health officials have reviewed CTA’s cleaning plan and say current procedures are adequate; no changes are recommended at this point.”

Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare, said, “Employers must give the workers what they need to protect themselves.” The union represents about 90,000 people in nursing homes, child care services and similar roles. He said the pandemic has exposed a “dirty little secret” of how some nursing homes have built profits by understaffing and neglecting the upkeep of facilities.

In a media call organized by the Chicago Federation of Labor, the union leaders contended production of safety equipment should be ramped up to serve not only health care workers but others obligated to serve the public.

SEIU Healthcare and the CFL have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media.

Others on the call were Mack Julion, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 11; Robert O’Toole, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1546; and Keith Hill, president of the bus drivers union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241.