CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago mom is fighting to get paid time off to be with her children during the pandemic. The Department of Aviation told the custodian at O’Hare International Airport “no” last month, but now it’s change its answer.
CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker discovered the answer is raising even more questions.
“I need time of to be home with my 4-year-old special needs son,” said Natalie Poole. “We have to do speech therapy with him and stuff like that. He needs my undivided attention, like literally all day.”
Poole works at O’Hare cleaning a food court in Terminal 2. She started asking for time off as soon as the coronavirus family medical leave rules took effect, giving workers up to 12 weeks off with pay to care for children out of school, but she was denied.
“Because I’m deemed as a first responder,” she said.
It’s in writing too; a deputy commissioner at the Chicago Aviation Department sent her an email saying so. After a CBS 2 story about the issue aired, Poole got an offer for an unpaid leave.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m lost for words,” said Poole.
Poole says she cannot afford an unpaid leave.
In New York City and Los Angeles custodial workers are not classified as first responders and are being allowed to take time off with pay.
“If they’re custodians, and they’re able to get the time off to be with their kids or whatever their issue is, why can’t I?” said Poole
CBS 2 asked United States Rep. Jesus Garcia.
“If these claims are true and employees at O’Hare Airport are being denied their rights, I would urge officials at O’Hare to rectify the situation,” Garcia said.
The Chicago Department of Aviation argues custodians are emergency responders because they’re needed to protect the health of travelers. So how can Poole now get time off unpaid? She thinks the decision is all about money.
“You can’t grant me off because you don’t want to pay me the two-thirds of the pay. Okay that I take three months off unpaid,” she said.
So do they need Poole or not?
“They definitely don’t,” she said.
Poole filed a claim that started an investigation with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Wednesday afternoon, the city told CBS 2 it is speaking with the DOL and may make changes to city policy if warranted.
Congressman Danny Davis introduced a bill to provide $850 million to help employees pay for childcare or for cities to cover the cost of replacement workers.
Another busy airport said it rotates custodial staff, so they work a week and are off a week, but everyone still gets their full pay.