CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Public Schools and hundreds of other Chicago area schools cancelled classes on Wednesday due to the cold, but that didn’t stop the city from telling crossing guards to report for duty in record-cold temperatures.
Crossing guards received text messages Wednesday morning, telling them to report for their morning and afternoon shifts.
In a matter of hours, the SEIU Local 73 Union stepped in and asked the city to relieve the crossing guards from duty Wednesday afternoon, and the workers were later sent home, according to a statement from the union.
The statement from the union reads, “Crossing guards take protecting the children and community of Chicago very seriously. Local 73 members braved the extreme cold conditions this morning and there was no reason for the City of Chicago to force them to work in the afternoon.”
Rochelle Davenport was one of two crossing guards working at Cermak and Wentworth at about 7:30 a.m., when the temperature in Chicago was -23 degrees, and the wind chill was about -50 degrees.
With no children to help cross the street, Davenport said it made no sense for her and other crossing guards to be out in such brutal cold.
“They don’t care about us,” Davenport said of her bosses.
The messages telling crossing guards to report for duty included notes to dress in layers, wear hats and gloves, and drink warm beverages; but Davenport said dressing in layers wasn’t keeping her warm enough.
“It’s freezing cold, my face, my toes, everything,” she said. “Even though I’m layered, it don’t matter. This is extreme weather to hurt someone physically. If it don’t kill you, it’ll knock you out.”
A spokesperson for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which oversees crossing guards, said it was an “all hands on deck situation.”
OEMC said crossing guards were told to come in for work, in case any children were not notified that classes had been cancelled and were found walking to school. City officials later announced crossing guards would not have to report for afternoon shifts.
Rochelle Davenport reported for duty in Chinatown, and said it made no sense for the city to order her and her fellow crossing guards to work, when kids won’t be going to school.
“It’s like deserted at 22nd and Wentworth,” she said. “You know, ain’t nobody out here.”
Davenport said most crossing guards might decide not to report to work, because of the extreme cold, but she showed up just in case.
“I came just in case I did see children for the morning shift, but now they’re telling me I have to be back out here at 2:15 for the afternoon,” she said. “If you notice, it’s deserted now, and it don’t make sense,”
Though she said she might risk losing her job for criticizing her bosses, Davenport said she doesn’t care and wants to speak out for her fellow crossing guards.
“Very seldom, you might see a supervisor or someone passing, but where are they at? They’re warm in a building, or either at home,” she said.
Davenport said city bosses don’t care that crossing guards are risking their own safety by standing outside when it’s so cold that schools are closed and kids are staying home.
A firefighter at a nearby firehouse lent his car to Davenport and a second crossing guard so they could get warm between pedestrians. It was their only saving grace.