CTA must fix worker safety issues with its Second Chance program

The Chicago Transit Authority’s Second Chance program should be an out-and-out victory for the troubled transit agency.

The initiative hires ex-offenders — and others who have a tough time finding employment — as temporary employees and puts them to work with CTA crews assigned to clean the exteriors of L trains.

A program that hires tough-to-employ workers at a livable ($15.80 an hour) wage while helping to keep L trains clean should be a win for all involved.

But leave it to the CTA, unfortunately, to find a way to louse it up.

Second Chance trainees received chemical burns from dealing with acid-based cleaning agents that are typically used to remove graffiti from the outside of L cars, as the Sun-Times’ Lauren FitzPatrick reported June 14. Workers also said when they reported the issue, their CTA supervisors sent them home and referred them for disciplinary action.

One worker said he and a group of others received burns on their hands, arms and elsewhere that were serious enough to require emergency medical care.

The CTA provides the crews with yellow zip-up jumpsuits and rubber gloves, but the cleaning agents were strong enough to seep through, causing pain and peeling to their skin.

Making matters worse: The 240 or so Second Chance employees get no health insurance or paid sick time.

A CTA spokesman said the Second Chance workers weren’t made to include graffiti removal to their cleaning duties — but the agency did admit that sometimes 10 of the 12 workers handling graffiti train washes are Second Chance apprentices.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 President Pennie McCoach wants the CTA to remove the apprentices from exterior wash duty because they haven’t been trained to safely use the cleaning chemicals. She also wants back pay for the Second Chance employees who were sent home after reporting their injuries.

The CTA should satisfy both requests — and prevent supervisors from punishing Second Chance workers who are whistleblowers about potential safety problems.

CTA President Dorval Carter Jr., has praised Second Chance as “giving individuals with barriers to employment the opportunity to really turn their lives around.”

Perhaps. But that opportunity shouldn’t come at the cost of worker safety.

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