SEIU Local 73 filed health and safety complaints with the Illinois Department of Labor and the Illinois Department of Public Health regarding the conditions for workers at Cermak Health Services which services the Cook County Jail. The Union represents about 500 workers at Cermak and throughout the Cook County Jail system. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, our most vulnerable communities, particularly Chicago’s Black and brown communities, are being disproportionately affected.
“My coworkers and I are concerned about the cleanliness of Cook County Jail. Cleaning supplies and PPE are in high-demand, but management is not providing easy access to them. Workers are constantly being asked to float throughout different units, which puts them and the units at risk. How can we expect a flattening of the curve when Cermak Health Services doesn’t adhere to the guideline provided by local and federal government? Hazard pay is a major concern. Paramedics like me are only offered 50-cents an hour as hazard pay. Frontline workers like us deserve the respect, dignity, resources and pay that comes with the dangerous work of ensuring our communities are safe from COVID-19,” Paramedic at Cook County Jail.
“Conditions are frightening at Cook County Jail. During my experiences, workers had to bring in their own PPE, screening was limited, and even though my coworkers were testing positive, little was being done to stop the spread of it. We’re constantly being asked to move around to different units, exposing us and others to the virus, and we wonder whether we’re bringing this deadly virus back home with us. We don’t need to jeopardize our lives like this,” Paramedic at Cook County Jail.
The two paramedics quoted provided quotes with the condition that they remain anonymous due to the fear of retaliation.
Without a proper social distancing protocol for detainees, the spread of Coronavirus will only worsen, we are concerned about the health of workers, detainees, and the community at-large. That is why we have continued to demand that Cook County drastically reduce the jail population by taking the following steps:
- Release all persons who are confined on any non-violent, low-level charges, particularly those deemed bailable but who cannot afford it;
- No new people being admitted to the jail unless they are believed to be a safety risk to the community. Los Angeles County is setting the precedent by reducing arrests and releasing detainees early to reduce the impact of the spread of COVID-19; and,
- Compassionate release for detainees over 65 years old or are immunocompromised and do not pose a safety threat,
- Early release for detainees who are nearing the end of their term. It is important that the County make sure that there are pre-trial services, healthcare and housing arrangements made for each detainee who is released.
Due to the close proximity of detainees and workers, in addition to the lack of resources they face, these groups are highly susceptible to this deadly virus. Drastic action must be taken before it is too late.
“Jails and prisons are particularly susceptible to the spread of infectious diseases due to the close proximity of inmates, constrained movement, the difficulty of providing adequate health care, and the lack of cleaning and hygiene supplies. Workers, too, go between the Jail and our communities, all of which can help further the spread of COVID-19. SEIU Local 73 is demanding the drastic reduction of the Cook County Jail population for the safety of the whole Cook County community,” said Dian Palmer, SEIU Local 73 President.
Currently, SEIU Local 73 has taken steps to ensure these demands become a reality. The steps include:
Worker statements are available for review: