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Northwestern Hospital Cook Says She And Her Colleagues Are At Risk, Need Hazard Pay

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A question remains about hazard pay at hospitals, and who gets it.

In this case, we're not talking about doctors or nurses, but other workers who provide vital services like food.

As CBS 2's Jermont Terry reported, employees at Northwestern Medcine say the hazard pay policy there is murky.

The worker speaking out does not work at the main Northwestern Memorial Hospital campus in Streeterville. But she raises concerns about something she claims isn't happening at any of its hospitals – equal hazard pay.

Yet, she claims she was told originally that she would get it.

For anyone working at a hospital, certain things are routine now.

"They check our temperatures and ask us a slew of questions," said a woman who works as a cook at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital.

She expressed concern while hiding her face.

"I don't want any repercussions for them to fire me or lose my job," the cook said.

But it is a job she believes places her at some risk, and hazard pay is necessary.

"Northwestern is doing the hazard pay, but it's not for every employee that work at the hospital," she said.

Back in April, people protested at the downtown Northwestern location, demanding equal hazard pay for nursing assistants and those who clean rooms. Now, it's spilling over to the cooks.

"I don't expect to get as much as a doctor or nurse, but a little something if we have to go to work and walk into an environment that could be hazardous," the cook said.

Her hopes of hazard pay popped into her mind only after receiving a notice from Northwestern hospital. It states that "employees who provide patient care" would get "special compensation" retroactive to April 5.

But weeks after getting the notice, she learned, "We were not included in that hazard pay, and we would not be getting it."

Up for debate is whether cooks are at risk of catching the coronavirus.

"Plus all the doctors and nurses that do see the patients come to the cafeteria to eat," the cook said.

She argues those in her department are put at further risk when dealing with the utensils from COVID-19 patients.

"They don't get plastic," the cook said. "They get regular silverware and plates as any other patients."

Northwestern Medicine sent the following response:

"Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We will follow up directly with the team tomorrow to make sure they have all the details of our COVID differential compensation program as well as answer any of their questions. We are incredibly proud of the exceptional work happening every day across our health system to care for patients during this global pandemic."

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