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Test All CTA Train Workers For Coronavirus, Union Leader Says

One bus driver has contracted COVID-19 and another is in isolation after their spouse tested positive for the virus.

Patrons ride an Forest Park-bound CTA Blue Line train in Chicago as fears of COVID-19 rise on Friday, March 20.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A union leader representing CTA workers is calling for all train operators to be tested for coronavirus to prevent the virus from spreading.

Kenneth Franklin, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 309, wants all of the city’s 3,000 CTA train workers to be tested.

One bus driver has contracted COVID-19 and another is in isolation after a spouse tested positive for the virus. Keith Hill, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union 241 who represents 7,000 members that operate the CTA’s busses, said there is “no such thing as social distance” for bus drivers.

Transit, health care, letter carriers, and food service workers are deemed essential workers under Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay at home order. They are working on the frontline lines of the coronavirus outbreak, putting their health at risk despite inadequate pay, health care and protective equipment, labor leaders said this week.

The “vast majority” of workers who have been classified as “essential,” are not “high earners with large salaries and fancy titles. They are the great working class of Chicago,” Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor said.

They need more masks and hand sanitizer, leaders said.

Mack Julion, President of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 11, also wants all local postal service workers tested for the virus because of their interactions with the public. He said one postal carrier in Chicago has tested positive for COVID-19.

The crisis has exposed how “woefully inadequate many of the private and public health care entities have responded to the cries” of the 90,000 SEIU Healthcare members who work in hospitals, nursing homes, home health care, and child care across four states, including Illinois, said union President Greg Kelley.

“Our members work even though there are often shortages of face masks, gloves, sanitizer, and other safety equipment,” Kelly said.

Bob O’Toole, who represents more than 12,000 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1546, said people must use “common sense” to protect those that are still working.

“If you drive up to a grocery store and you see that the parking lots are packed, go home,” he said.

Government help for workers

Immediate, sustained support is needed from the government to provide relief to the “economic disaster” brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Reiter said.

The current legislation stalled in the U.S. Senate is a “bill to subsidize corporations and not workers.” Instead, the Chicago labor movement is demanding from local and federal leaders:

  • Expanded unemployment insurance and direct payments to families
  • Expanded medicaid program and subsidized Cobra payments for workers who lose insurance because of unemployment or reduced hours
  • Paid sick-leave for all workers, including independent contractors.
  • Stronger protections to keep workers safe
  • Bailed out companies should not be able to reward stock-holders or subsidize operations while cutting jobs, wages or benefits

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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