Daily Journal

KANKAKEE — The union representing 25 employees of the Kankakee County Health Department and its administrator, John Bevis, are in negotiations for added emergency paid sick days in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) Council No. 31, employee negotiations have been ongoing since April 1, Bevis said.

The paid days would be in addition to sick days the staff receives as part of the current contract, which went into effect in 2019.

Bevis said under guidelines of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was part of the federal government’s first stimulus package, the county’s health department workers fall under the exemption of healthcare providers as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor and thus excludes them from the act.

However, Bevis said he has offered union members 10 paid sick days as has been done with non-union employees at the department. The health board approved of the plan, he said.

Under the FFCRA, the emergency sick days can be used through the end of 2020.

“Mr. Bevis has made it clear to us on multiple occasions that he will not provide those 10 additional days until we drop our concerns about the time our members are required to be off of work while waiting for their COVID test results,” AFSCME Representative Christian Hainds said in an email.

Brevis said union officials are asking for three additional days for employees as they await results of personal COVID testing.

“Given the frequency of testing required at the health department, the members are concerned about having enough sick time left to use for other illnesses, or if there is a resurgence of the virus this year,” Haind said.

But Bevis said they are asking for more than the FFCRA allows and that the department must deal with the COVID-19 local response.

“We have a critical situation,” Bevis said. “We have to do contact tracing, which is difficult.”

He said he has the best interests at heart for the county, the department and residents.

“I would not put anyone at risk,” he said.

While the department’s office is closed to the public, anyone who enters the building is screened, Bevis said. As of last week, no health department employee had tested positive for COVID-19, Bevis said.

Hainds said there are other issues directly related to their request for the additional sick days.

“First, we have members who have had sick time requests denied during the pandemic for non-COVID related symptoms,” Hainds said. “Our contract also provides protections for people who are asked to stay home due to illness. Specifically, that the first day of that leave does not count against their sick time.

“Mr. Bevis has refused to honor that provision of the contract, and we have five grievances outstanding on that issue alone.”

Bevis said he could not discuss the grievances but said he abides by the provision in the current contract. The provision says if an employee becomes ill at work, they are paid for the rest of that work day.

If the employee is still sick the following day, Bevis said, that employee would have to use their sick pay.

“If you call in sick, that is you calling off. That is you taking your sick time, Bevis said.

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