Black Workers Matter and Cicero Essential Workers Alliance will be co-hosting a vaccination site for essential workers from the West Side and the west suburbs later this month as the organizations push local companies to make it easier for their employees to get vaccinated. 

The vaccinations will take place on May 25 and May 26, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., at 1330 S. 54th Ave. in Cicero. The workers partnered with the COVID Equity Response Collaborative Loyola and the Cook County Department of Public Health.  

During a press conference on May 20, held in front of the nearby Bimbo Bakery at 1540 S. 54th Ave. in Cicero, the workers urged Bimbo and other companies to offer paid time off so that employees can not only get vaccinated, but can also have time to recover from the vaccines’ possible side-effects. 

Yvette McCallum, a union steward for Bimbo workers who worked at the plant since 2016, said she got laid off on June 29, 2020, because she wouldn’t come to work until her doctor gave her the OK. She said that she has a medical condition that puts her at higher risk of getting COVID-19, and she was simply following her doctor’s recommendations. McCallum is currently going through arbitration. 

She said that she still keeps in touch with current workers, and while some conditions changed, other issues persisted. 

“I heard that they staggered times when people were coming in,” she said. “I heard that they staggered lunch times, gave [employees] another break room. But I’m hearing that the conditions are still rough. They still bunch people together and people still need to get their own PPE.” 

People working in food production have been eligible for vaccinations since February 2021. Shay Mitchell, who, like McCallum, got laid off in June 2020, because her medical condition put her at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 and she wanted to get cleared by her doctor to return to work, argued that incentivizing vaccinations is in the company’s best interest. 

“In order to come back to work, you should be encouraging me to get vaccinated,’ she said, adding that, given the hazards workers have faced throughout the pandemic, they deserve to get their wages bumped up to at least $20 an hour. 

Black Workers Matter wrote a letter urging plant manager Moises Chavez and plant human resource manager Gabriela Martinez to encourage workers to take advantage of their vaccinations and give them paid time off to get vaccinated and recover.

The group tried to deliver the letter to the plant. They got rebuffed, leading them to tape the signed copy of the letter to the plant’s front door. Bimbo Bakeries didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline. 

Bimbo Bakeries didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline. 

The workers got support from Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson (1st), whose district includes Austin.

“The work you’re doing is saving lives,” he said. “What’s frustrating is there are people who make profit off of our people and not value our lives. Continue to challenge the power structures. I’ll be here throughout the pandemic to make sure that everything we need, we get.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...