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State inspectors ordered back to work, but workers and their union objected

Thursday, May 7, 2020

* Mark Maxwell

The Illinois Department of Agriculture instructed 26 inspectors in the Weights and Measures division to return to work on Monday, the same day Governor J.B. Pritzker warned private businesses who reopen too soon that they could “be taking on liability.”

State law requires the Department of Agriculture to inspect gas pumps, small scales, fuel trucks, propane trucks, large scales, grain elevators, warehouse receipts and other measures as a form of consumer protection and safety. Only the gas pump inspectors have been called back to work.

“We’re grabbing a nozzle four times after thousands of people grabbed it days before, and then we go to the next pump to do the same thing,” 15-year veteran inspector Scott Miller said in a phone call on Tuesday.

“If the station has one gas pump with the virus on it, by the time I get done, all pumps have the virus on it,” Miller said. “Even wearing wearing rubber gloves, it’s still on the gloves. So it’s not getting me, but I could be spreading it all across the station. So then, everybody who pulls up at that station has the possibility of getting the virus.”

According to emails obtained by WCIA, Miller is one of several concerned inspectors who fear that without the proper personal protective equipment and training, they could unintentionally act as state-sanctioned super spreaders of COVID-19.

“They gave us no training at all,” he said. “They gave us some CDC guidelines and some YouTube videos.”

* The Illinois Federation of Teachers represents the workers, so I reached out to the union…

“The Illinois Federation of Teachers has been in communication and is working closely with the DOA to make sure all employees are safe and that training is available so that they can execute their job safely - with proper PPE and practices in place that inhibit the spread of COVID-19 when they return,” said Monica Trevino, IFT’s Director of Communications. ”Additionally, the Products and Standards employees have not returned to active status in the field and are still in remote work status.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

16 Comments
  1. - Annonin - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 12:24 pm:

    While we all worry about the health of all of Capt. Fax’s cousins I am sure Director Costello will train everyone up before they hit the streets.


  2. - TheVerd - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 12:30 pm:

    Really? They can’t take disinfectant wipes and disinfect the handles? Do it smart, get back to work.


  3. - Been There - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 12:33 pm:

    Normally I am on the side of the worker but in this case it seems like it is an easy fix. A box of 50 disposable gloves cost 5 bucks. So that’s 10 cents each. Even if a station has 20 handles that’s only $2 cost for the state to inspect that location and change gloves for each handle.


  4. - A Jack - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 12:45 pm:

    Even well before the pandemic, I used hand sanitizer after touching a gas pump handle. It is just common sense.


  5. - LTSW - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 12:52 pm:

    Gas stations have been open all along. What does Mr. Miller think has been happening at gas pumps all this time?


  6. - Chatham Resident - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 1:01 pm:

    I don’t know if this correlates with the gas inspectors returning to work.

    But it is interesting that at the time of this callback, Springfield-area gas prices (including here in Chatham) are back approaching $2 again. $1.89 at Shell and BP yesterday here in Chatham, and now $1.99 for regular at the Casey’s on East Walnut in Chatham.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if despite continued shelter-at-home, if gas returns to $2.50 or thereabouts locally as early as Memorial Day weekend–and a huge spike the last weekend of the month when (at this time) shelter-in-place is currently scheduled to end.


  7. - Huh? - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 1:22 pm:

    To some extent, I don’t worry about touching a gas pump. For the record, I am speculating, that a gas pump handle is probably one of the most harsh environments for germs. The toxic chemicals in gasoline and the vapors probably do more to kill covid19 that most sanitizers for human consumption.


  8. - DuPage - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 1:25 pm:

    @- A Jack - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 12:45 pm:

    ===Even well before the pandemic, I used hand sanitizer after touching a gas pump handle. It is just common sense.===

    Good point. I was doing something similar, wearing disposable nyplex gloves and then throwing them in the garbage can before getting back in the car. It might be a long time before I need gas again though because I am mostly just staying at home.


  9. - Downstate Illinois - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 1:29 pm:

    Go to work or get fired. Stop drawing a paycheck for doing nothing that the state obviously can’t afford.


  10. - Demoralized - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 1:35 pm:

    ==Go to work or get fired. ==

    You do nothing but complain. I say you go to work at a coronavirus ward at a hospital but make sure you don’t wear any protective equipment since you seem to think none of this is a big deal.

    It’s time for you to go away. Shouldn’t you be protesting somewhere anyway?


  11. - Just A Dude - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 1:36 pm:

    I am expecting that DoIT and call center workers that are currently working remotely will be expected back in the office without following the distancing rules and limits of the number of people in groups. It will not be possible to maintain 6 ft distancing the way the offices are set up, but I just can’t see management being comfortable with remote work to continue until phase 4 or 5. Their reasoning around the rules should be interesting. Or I could be wrong, we’ll see.


  12. - Huh? - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 2:18 pm:

    Dude - I expect that there may be some split shifts in the office with no overlaps. Half crew Monday through Noon wednesday, Other half 12:30 wednesday through 5pm friday. People in open office areas or cubicles, sitting every other desk. Everyone wearing masks.

    For those specific tasks that can be done remotely, the work is getting done. I know in some offices there are tasks that require a specific terminal and software that can’t be mirrored using a vpn. So the technician goes in a couple of times a week.


  13. - Soccermom - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 3:57 pm:

    Mr Miller, I want you to do what you need to do to stay safe. But I will tell you that, when I gas up, I spray everything with bleach solution, wipe it with paper towels, and then use gloves.

    Although your point about spreading from pump to pump is well taken, I think the bleach sanitation step might solve the problem (although I will defer to any expert in communicable diseases who says differently.)


  14. - Anon221 - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 4:50 pm:

    Been There- As someone who is still waiting ( as an essential employee) to get PPE and sanitizer and wipes from their employer for field work, when was the last time you could just walk into a store and find those items on the shelf? Wipes have been on and off. Gloves- Found one box this weekend and bought them up. Hand sanitizer- good luck. Haven’t been able to find that for months. Did have a supply from a distillery, but they are going back to producing the drinkable stuff, so that option is now gone. And don’t get me started on quality masks. None at all supplied since this started. I’m having to use regular dust masks or make my own.

    Employees have a right to safety items. And not getting them, or having to scrounge them up yourself for essential jobs, is stress that is not needed on top of everything else right now. So I empathize with IDOA staff and am glad their Union is backing them up.


  15. - Been There - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 5:50 pm:

    ==== - As someone who is still waiting ( as an essential employee) to get PPE and sanitizer and wipes from their employer for field work, ====
    I don’t expect the employees to walk into a hardware store and buy it themselves. Disposable gloves are hard to find in stores but the state should have no problem ordering them direct. Home Depot has them available online. I’m sure our buddy at Uline would take care of them. But if the state can’t handle that task then I would agree with you.


  16. - The dude - Thursday, May 7, 20 @ 6:04 pm:

    That’s indirect contact with public which is going to be labeled a low risk job. Although I could see the argument of the job task being medium risk due to the amount of people touching the pumps.

    Medium risk positions simply need basic PPE and training for most job tasks.

    For their task I would require gloves and some sort of way to wash hands.

    Keep in mind we have tens of thousands of employees who actually have direct contact with public and they are still working.

    These inspectors need to simply be provided PPE and trained. AFSCME knows this and shouldn’t fight it.


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