Workers protest for safety during pandemic

Coronavirus

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — In the latest confrontation with the University of Illinois, the Facilities and Service Workers’ Union is still fighting for their rights during the pandemic.

Friday, they stood in protest outside the campus administration building. As previously reported, the custodial workers were forced to change their shifts to create more time for cleaning the buildings. The University has met with the union representatives in the last month to compromise, but the employees said they are still being put in danger at work.

Several members from other unions and the campus faculty association joined them in support and solidarity for what they are asking the University to do to keep them safe during the pandemic. The voices of building service maintenance workers at the U of I filled the air, as tensions have reached a peak for these employees.

“It’s very nerve-racking for folks. It’s stressful and people are just not able to sleep working about it.”

New issues have come up since their last protest when the University changed their shifts. That was to have more people cleaning during the peak hours of the afternoon into the night once school starts during the pandemic. The employees were denied hazard pay. “Their reasoning was basically ‘That’s your job; is to clean and you’re still cleaning. You’re basically doing the same job.’ But we’ve never had this kind of risk before. This is a dramatically increased risk.”

The University did compromise by increasing the day shift and moving a shift time later in the day. “That gave some of the more senior employees more options,” said Ricky Baldwin, union president. But Baldwin said that is not enough. Especially since some of those custodial workers will have to clean designated floors that will house students who are quarantined and waiting for their COVID-19 test results and those who test positive and must be isolated.

They fear the health risks are too high for some of the employees. “Some of those people have serious immune deficiency issues. Management has said that they’ll work with us, but it’s a little vague at this point.” Those specific workers assigned to the quarantine and isolation building floors will be given HAZMAT suits. But that brings up another problem.

“They still haven’t received any training on how to put them on, take them off and it’s very important to know how to take them off because you’ve been in an infected area and you could infect yourself.”

These workers will keep raising their voices until they are heard by U of I leaders. The University is not breaking the contract with the union. That means they cannot strike when it comes to these issues.

The University has not responded to comment on the issues that prompted this latest protest.

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