About 1,500 janitors who clean hundreds of Chicago’s public schools are continuing to push for sick days, warning that without time off, they could get ill and infect students with swine flu.
Outside Walt Disney Elementary School in Buena Park this morning, several janitors handed out leaflets and small packets of hand sanitizer to parents walking their kids to school. Many parents seemed unaware of the issue; only a few took time to talk with the janitors.
“People are really sensitive about the children, and that’s really what it’s all about,” says Edward Washington, a janitor at Fermi Elementary School on the South Side.
The janitors, members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, work for one of several private contractors that CPS uses to clean its schools. They currently don’t have any sick time, so if they get ill, they must take unpaid time off or show up to work sick.
“We’re looking for a better contract, that’s all, that will give us sick days,” Washington says.
At July’s Board of Education meeting, CEO Ron Huberman said the district would push to get sick time benefits added when the district’s cleaning contracts with the private companies come up for renewal – but that won’t happen until next year.
Meanwhile, janitors like Washington say something needs to be done now, especially as worries of a particularly virulent flu season mount.
CPS could act faster if it wanted to, SEIU Local 1 spokeswoman Erica Hade says.
“The contractors would like to give the janitors sick days, from our conversations with them,” Hade says.