Union representing Easterseals Academy workers files OSHA complaint for safety violations

AFSCME says staff shortage causes dangerous working conditions.
Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 10:27 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 26, 2021 at 10:28 AM CDT
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MACHESNEY PARK, Ill. (WIFR) - AFSCME Council 31 Local 2515, who represents Easterseals Paraprofessionals in Machesney Park, has filed an OSHA complaint over volatile working conditions due to dangerous staffing shortages.

The complaint stated paraprofessionals who work with students with intellectual, behavioral, development and emotional disabilities are often injured by the student’s violent behavioral. It said there are not enough professionals in the classroom to monitor and intervene.

“How many broken bones do we have to have?” asked Brenda Schlueter, a ten year Easterseals Academy paraprofessional.

According to Schlueter, the staffing shortage started before the pandemic.

“It creates very dangerous situations when students have behaviors, that there isn’t enough staff to keep that student safe, and to keep the other students safe,” said Schlueter.

The limited staff spends most of the time dealing with behaviors, and not enough time teaching, said Schlueter.

The union representing the Easterseals paraprofessionals filed an OSHA complaint, hoping to see some action.

“Local tax payers need to know that school districts like RPS and Harlem are paying Easterseals for services that are not being fulfilled due to this private company’s willful union-busting, anti-worker agenda. The serious injuries sustained by both the paraprofessionals and students are preventable,” said AFSCME Staff Representative Sara Dorner. “A fair collective bargaining agreement with dignified wages would help recruit and retain the staff necessary to provide a safe, and quality education.”

According to Dorner, the union has reached out to the organization trying to remedy the situation, but got no response.

The 23 News team reached out to Easterseals, and received the following response from Easterseals Serving Chicagoland and Greater Rockford President and CEO Sara Ray Stoelinga:

“We have not yet received the OSHA complaint and so cannot comment on the content at this time. Our students receive all services specified by school districts in their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) in a high-quality, caring and timely manner, despite inaccurate statements from AFSCME to the contrary. We are committed to the health and safety of our students and employees, to providing high-quality educational services to our youth with autism and to our long-time, trusting partnerships with the districts we serve at Easterseals Academy Machesney Park.”

Dorner said the company needs to increase staff by offering higher wages.

“We are not going to stop until we have a fair collective bargaining, because we believe that is what the students need to get an equitable education and for the workers to have a safe work environment,” Dorner said.

Dorner added the paraprofessionals are not blaming the students. She said the short staff is what allows the dangerous situations to happen.

Easterseals, Machesney Park received more than two million dollars in in funding from RPS205 in 2020, to educate students who cannot be accommodated in public schools.

Paraprofessionals at Easterseals certified their new union in October 2019. They have been in negotiations for their first collective bargaining agreement with the employer for almost two years.

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