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Workers At South Side Illinois Motor Vehicle Facility Say COVID-19 Is Rampant, And State Is Downplaying It

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Dozens of workers at a local Illinois Secretary of State's Motor Vehicle facility say the state is putting them in danger – daily.

They told CBS 2's Jermont Terry that COVID-19 is rampant at the South Side facility and the state is downplaying it.

And while there is so much talk about reopening and moving into the final phase, workers at the Chicago South facility - at 9901 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. in the Rosemoor neighborhood - say the state still has not figured out the best way to keep them safe.

Terry talked to half a dozen workers over the past two days – many too fearful to speak on camera. Employees are working at the facility, formally known as the Charles Chew State of Illinois Motor Vehicle Facility, but they wonder why the doors there are even open.

"We're not disgruntled at all," one employee said. "We just want the state to take care of its employees."

"Because again, COVID is not over," another said. "Vaccination takes a while to kick in."

The employees hid their identities, yet spoke out after receiving a letter dated May 1. It warns them someone tested positive for COVID-19 and they were possibly exposed.

"It's kind of concerning - to not just myself, but everyone else - because we have families to go home to," the first employee said.

That notice was the second in fewer than three weeks that the Secretary of State sent to employees about a positive case and the chance of exposure. But workers told CBS 2 there is no recommendation or mandate ever to get tested.

And if they do get a COVID test, they say they have to burn up sick time while waiting on the results.

"That's our own time," the first employee said. "We have to use sick time; PTO, and it's not fair to us. It's not like we're walking outside and said, 'Let's let someone cough on me so I can get COVID so I can take some time off.'"

Terry talked to a half dozen employees at the facility over two days.

"We're speaking out because it needs to be heard," the second employee said.

Many are fearful of retaliation or termination. But they all said requiring employees to use their personal time for quarantining or awaiting results is adding to ongoing health risk on the job.

"They don't want to say anything, because they have to use their time," the second employee said, "and them not saying anything puts the rest of us at risk."

They believe the state will not request tests despite the possible exposure, because it is feared the facility would shut down.

"We just want it to be safe for all of us - point blank," the first employee said. "That's all we want."

The Secretary of State's office said since federal COVID-19 sick days expired at the end of 2020, the only option is for workers either not to get paid or to use their personal days.

It is estimated that 100 people work at the facility.

The state said there have only been two coronavirus cases in the past three weeks, but workers said they get those letters about cases at least once a month.

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