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Huberman: No Janitor Sick Days Until Next Year

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Huberman: No Janitor Sick Days Until Next Year

MarÃa Vera, a janitor at Chicago’s Amundsen High School, leaflets Tuesday at Disney Elementary. (Chip Mitchell/WBEZ)

Chicago children filed into more than 600 public schools Tuesday and began their academic year. But the school district is not doing all it can to protect those kids from contagions like swine flu. That’s according to the janitors who clean most of the school buildings.

Parents and students this morning streamed into Walt Disney Elementary, a magnet school on Chicago’s North Side.

BONDS: Hi. How are you today?

At the front door, about a dozen janitors gave them leaflets and hand-sanitizing packets.

BONDS: My name is Sharon. I’m a janitor at the CPS school...

Sharon Bonds works at a middle school on the South Side. She’s one of about 1,500 janitors employed by a private company to clean public schools in Chicago.

BONDS: We’re just out here trying to support to get a sick day in case we get sick or our kids get sick or husbands get sick.

Bonds and the other janitors haven’t had paid sick leave since the school district privatized their services in 1996. Local 1 of the Service Employees International Union hasn’t managed to win the benefit for them over the years.

Now the union sees an opportunity: Fear of a swine flu epidemic this fall. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that flu has killed at least 36 children in the United States. That’s apart from the 50-100 kids that seasonal flu kills each year. The advice for students and school workers with a fever is stay home until the symptoms have been gone for 24 hours.

But Bonds told the parents that few of the janitors could afford to stay home if they came down with the flu.

BONDS: We could spread our germs into the little kids in the school.

Most of the parents at Disney didn’t pay much attention to the janitors.

Julie Fain did. Her boy is starting first grade there. She wonders why sick janitors should have to stay home without pay if sick teachers don’t.

FEIN: It’s partially a health risk and it’s partially totally unfair to the workers who do some of the dirtiest jobs, very important jobs, in the schools. It’s part of a pattern of privatizing to cut costs and I just don’t think that’s something we want to be cutting.

On Tuesday afternoon, the union moved its leafleting operation southwest to Little Village Elementary.

The district has brought in four companies for its cleaning work. A spokesman for one of them says he cannot support sick leave for his janitors.

DANIELS: Because someone has to pay for them.

Jimmy Daniels is sales president of Total Facility Maintenance, a company based in west suburban Wood Dale.

DANIELS: And who’s going to pay for them? There’s never any profit.
MITCHELL: Your company couldn’t afford, say, 10 sick days a year out of its...
DANIELS: 10 sick days a year? I don’t any company that can afford that. No, absolutely not. I think they have a pretty decent contract, compared to a lot of other janitors’ contracts.

But maybe not compared to roughly 800 janitors the school district still employs directly. Those workers get 12 paid sick days a year.

Schools chief Ron Huberman today said his staff would monitor student health. He also expressed sympathy for the janitors without the paid sick days.

HUBERMAN: In the future we will build into our RFP process a requirement for those companies that service the Chicago Public Schools system to provide a mechanism by which those janitors can get sick-time pay, but that’s going to be in the next contract.

Those agreements won’t take effect until next summer. The janitors say that’s too long.

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