Chicago’s main jail had to be placed on lockdown Sunday after more than 200 workers called out sick on a sunny Mother’s Day.
For the second time in as many years, about a third of the day shift at Cook County Jail decided to take Mother’s Day off instead of reporting for duty.
Of the employees assigned to the 7 a.m.–3 p.m. shift, 206 — 32 percent — were absent from work, the Chicago Tribune reported. Eighty-six of them claimed illness, while another 120 invoked the Family Medical Leave Act, according to Cook County Sheriff spokesperson Cara Smith.
“It’s the perfect storm of situations: It’s Mother’s Day and there is beautiful weather,” Smith told the Tribune. “Unfortunately, it’s devastating to the people who do come to work and for the taxpayers.”
Due to the “extraordinary” number of missing workers, the sheriff’s office was forced to place all 10 divisions of the jail on lockdown and cancel programs for detainees, Smith said. The emergency measure restricted inmates’ movements throughout the facility, but some essential activities, such as those involving health care or court dates, continued as normal.
County officials attributed the mass absence to fact that Sunday was Mother’s Day and had beautiful weather. About 25 percent of the afternoon shift starting at 3 p.m. also called in sick, according to Smith.
A similar incident occurred on Mother’s Day last year, when about 20 percent of workers called in sick or took a day under FMLA.
“We continue to find ways to curb the absenteeism, but we have very few tools in the toolbox,” Smith said.
Representatives from Teamsters Local 700, the jail workers’ union, have not commented publicly on Sunday’s rash of absences, but union leaders have defended so-called ‘sick-outs’ in the past. After more than 300 jail workers called out sick on Father’s Day 2015, Local 700 treasurer-secretary Michael Malone said jail employees were within their rights to take the day off.
“The earned sick time of our members can be used at their discretion as long as it coincides with the rules of their contract, which Sheriff Tom Dart agreed to,” Malone said.
Cook County Jail is one of the largest single-site detention facilities in the country, covering eight city blocks and housing a daily average population of about 9,000 prisoners.
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