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Chicago coronavirus emergency workers to finally get schools’ promised pay bonus, on fourth week of work

A child rides a bicycle at a shuttered Chicago public school the first week that campuses closed.
A child rides a bicycle at a shuttered Chicago public school the first week that campuses closed.
Cassie Walker Burke

Chicago Schools promised to pay a premium to front-line workers willing to help distribute food during school closures, but uncertainty over how the pay bump would appear in their checks has caused confusion and some distrust among some workers.

“We have been doing this for a month now. How is this not in effect?” Michael Greenwood, lead custodian at Chicago Public Schools, said Tuesday. “We have to worry about you paying us? It’s crazy.”

On Tuesday, after emergency staff at schools inquired about the status of their premium pay, which they said was not reflected in their latest digital pay stub, Chicago Public Schools issued an email promising the money would arrive on Friday, according to its pay schedule.

“Premium pay will appear in the HR4U portal as a separate paycheck on Friday, April 10,” the district said in an email referring to the pay-reporting system. Hourly staff was promised premium pay at time-and-a-half.

Greenwood is one of the front-line staff, including administrators, security guards and kitchen workers, who since March 17 have been helping distribute food. The district is seeking to fight hunger in a school district where 74% of students live in poverty.

Staff like Greenwood are in the fourth week of reporting to work since Chicago schools closed. He has worked as a custodian at Morton School of Excellence in Garfield Park since 2012.

District officials said the confusion among emergency staff was due to how the district’s pay portal showed pay, and assured workers they would receive the premium pay in full by Friday.

Greenwood said the lack of communication, and the lag in the promised additional money, are a sign of disrespect for workers doing jobs that have become essential amid a pandemic.

“We don’t want to be thinking about pay when it comes to us coming out to do our job,” he said. “Do you know the chances we risk when we come out every day?”

Lenny Moore, who oversees the district’s financial health as controller, addressed the confusion in an email.

“Early this morning, we began receiving questions from emergency personnel who do not see their premium pay reflected in HR4U for their upcoming paycheck,” Moore said in the email. “We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.”

Greenwood also said staff have complained about a shortage of cleaning supplies.

“We asked for gloves, and got one little box of large gloves,” Greenwood said. “That is the truth.”

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