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CTA bus drivers demand better facilities for bathroom breaks

Tommy Sams Jr. of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241 spoke at a news conference to call attention to problems he said exist with the portable toilets available to CTA bus drivers. “The current portable bathrooms the CTA bought are the bottom-dollar models,” Sams said. | Andrea Salcedo/Sun-Times

Conditions at some portable toilets set up for CTA bus drivers are so bad that some drivers prefer to wear disposable diapers, their union president said Wednesday.

About a dozen of the portable toilets are in place, but they are too dirty or in unsafe neighborhoods, said Tommy Sams Jr., president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241.

“Forcing front-line workers to use portable potties … is degrading, unsafe and unsanitary,” Sams said Wednesday outside CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St.

Workers, some holding signs declaring ‘We Move Chicago,’ joined union, political and religious leaders to demand cleaner portable restrooms and longer bathroom breaks for CTA employees.

“The current portable bathrooms the CTA bought are the bottom-dollar models,” Sams said. “They don’t have running water or heat, and often the hand sanitizer is either empty or broken. This is an absolute disrespect to our workers. We move over a million people a day.”

Kenneth Franklin, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, said bathrooms have been a problem for at least four years, but that a recent change in CTA policies, including stricter discipline measures for employees, prompted them to speak up.

“We feel like this is a disgrace,” Franklin said. “Things are just getting worse and worse.”

The CTA issued a statement saying some older, smaller portable toilets are being replaced and the agency is exploring other improvements, too.

“Every bus and rail operator has access to multiple restroom facilities along their routes,” spokesman Stephen Mayberry was quoted as saying. The small number of portable restrooms, according to Mayberry, are intended only to supplement “nearly 100 other permanent restroom options available for operators.”

Sams said drivers’ “recovery time” at the end of a route has been cut to 5 minutes from 15 minutes. “That’s not enough time,” he said.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said it is “ridiculous” that CTA workers have to protest over an issue like bathrooms.

“Our bus drivers ensure that Chicagoans get to work on time, they ensure that our high school students get a safe ride to school, they ensure that people are able to go across town,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “We as a city should be able to ensure that they have clean and sanitary places in which they can use the bathroom.”

Franklin asked the CTA to revise workers’ schedules to allow every bus driver to access a restroom during their shift and build new washroom facilities.

Mayberry said building new bathroom facilities is costs money and would be a logistical challenge.

“When bus routes are adjusted, as they often are, CTA would be unable to move any permanent restroom facility to accommodate that change, making it useless to our operators,” Mayberry said in the agency’s statement.

Sams said CTA officials told him one new bathroom facility would cost $1 million. “I find that hard to believe,” Sams said.

“The authorities spend millions of dollars on reconstruction,” Sams said. “What about the people who actually provide the service?”