Streets and Sanitation absenteeism is an old (and political) story

Tom Byrne, commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation, put his foot down this week on chronic absenteeism within his department. I guess that means things are gonna get real dicey when it comes time to vote (and work the polls) during some pivotal elections in 2010 and 2011. It’s a not-so-well-kept secret that Streets and Sanitation is laden with political workers and that sometimes the line is blurred between the work listed in their job descriptions and the political work they have to do to get and keep their jobs.

In December 2004, The Chicago Reporter revealed that thousands of city workers miss work on election days, almost as often as they miss work for those days immediately before or after major holidays. Mick Dumke, of Clout City fame, broke the story for the Reporter.

Between Jan. 1, 2003, and Dec. 7, 2004, Streets and Sanitation workers took off work for the municipal election in 2003 and the primary election in 2004 more often than any other day during the period analyzed.


Similar trends were seen in several departments including transportation, general services, aviation, water management and the mayor’s office of special events. Dumke and a team of interns canvassed a number of polling places on Nov. 2, 2004, and spoke with several city workers manning the poll sites. Election Day is “an excused day off,” said one aviation department truck driver, who also served as a 41st Ward precinct worker. “You can play hooky from work, and they don’t yell at you.”

The practice of city workers taking election days off to do campaign work was also illustrated in two photos that freelance photographer Mary Hanlon shot for Dumke’s story. The photo below on the left shows several trucks in the water management department’s fleet yard at 4900 W. Sunnyside Ave. on Nov. 2, 2004–the day of the general election that year. The photo below on the right, shot 24 hours later, shows that the trucks were gone, presumably out on the street as they are on most work days.



It’s interesting that Byrne’s frustration with absenteeism in streets and sanitation boiled over this week; the very same week when nominating petitions are being submitted for the Feb. 2, 2010, primary election in Illinois. Any guesses as to who are the folks collecting the thousands of signatures needed to get on the ballot?

Leave a comment