'Essential' workers need more coronavirus protection, unions say

MARCH 11: Contents of each kit issued to LAPD field personnel: A single use N95 mask. LAPD personnel assemble personal safety kits for field officers to protect themselves from exposure to the Coronavirus, at Piper Technical Center on Wednesday, Marc ( Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times )

Union leaders representing workers that have been deemed "essential" as Illinois battles the coronavirus called Monday for more protective gear to guard members against infection.

Kenneth Franklin, head of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, which represents Chicago Transit Authority train engineers, said the agency is adequately cleaning train cars, but is paying little attention to air filtering systems. Franklin is calling for a quarantine of workers that would shut down train service, which officials say served about 750,000 riders daily before the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I advocate for testing of my members and the environment they’re in if we’re going to move forward,” he said.

CTA spokesman Steve Mayberry is dismissing Franklin’s concerns, saying the CTA robustly cleans and disinfects railcars, buses and stations daily. He added city health officials have reviewed CTA’s cleaning plan and say current procedures adequate and ``no changes are recommended at this point.”

SEIU Healthcare represents about 90,000 people in nursing homes, childcare services and other similar positions. President Greg Kelley said employers must give workers what they need to protect themselves. He says the pandemic has exposed how some nursing homes have built profits by understaffing and neglecting the upkeep of facilities.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus.