Open Letter to Illinois Department of Public Health’s Director Ngozi Ekize From the Raise the Floor Alliance

December 6, 2020

Sophia Zaman

Executive Director, Raise the Floor Alliance

Dr. Ngozi Ekize
Director, Illinois Department of Public Health

Dear Dr. Ezike,

After recent reporting on the state of Illinois’ initial vaccination plans, we are writing to urge the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to prioritize essential low-wage workers in key industries that are driving COVID-19 transmission. This includes food production, manufacturing, warehousing, restaurant, janitorial service, and care economy sectors.

As the first shipments of the vaccine arrive in Illinois, we call on IDPH to develop an equitable vaccination plan that prioritizes Illinois temporary workers and low wage workers, populations that are 2.5 times more likely to be Black and Latino than the overall workforce. As a coalition of worker centers across the Chicagoland area, Raise the Floor Alliance (RTF) is well positioned to assist IDPH in developing an equitable & strategic vaccine deployment plan that takes into account the realities of temporary and low wage workers across the state who, like our worker members, have kept the country running during this pandemic without the luxury of being able to work from home.

From its own contact tracing data, we know that IDPH is well aware that factories, warehouses, and distribution centers across Illinois are at the top of the list for COVID-19 outbreaks. From conversations with various county and state health officials, we believe that IDPH is well attuned to the need for workplace vaccination plans. However, from our vantage point on the ground, we know that effective vaccine deployment is undermined by structural impediments in heavily “temped-out” industries where layers of subcontracting allow employers to easily shirk responsibility and pass off liability. Of the 650,000 workers in Illinois’ temporary staffing industry, it’s estimated that 85% of this workforce are people of color, mostly Black and Latino — communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. These workers’ priority access to the vaccine could mean the difference between life and death. Without deliberate planning, or many who already find themselves in a “race to the bottom,” we fear that low-wage temporary workers will be among the last in line for a vaccine.

If any essential workers are to be at the front of the line, we call upon IDPH to ensure that all essential workers are at the front of the line, including low-wage & temporary workers. Specifically, we are calling on IDPH to require:

  • Low-wage workers in food production, manufacturing, warehousing, janitorial service, restaurant and the care economy sectors be given priority access to the vaccine
  • Employers pay for time off to take the vaccine,
  • No retaliation for workers speaking up about COVID-19 transmission or public health violations in the workplace.
  • That local health departments work with groups like Raise the Floor Alliance in reaching out to vulnerable workplace populations to ensure access to vaccination.

Furthermore, we request a meeting with IDPH leadership to share our concerns and to discuss strategies in reaching vulnerable populations who may be hesitant to take the vaccine. We look forward to your prompt reply. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Sophia Zaman

Executive Director

Raise the Floor Alliance

Associate Director of Warehouse Workers for Justice, a worker center dedicated to fighting for stable, family supporting jobs in Chicagoland’s warehouses.