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County's 'elevator operators,' other job titles present misleading picture

Friday, April 09, 2010
ChicagoCurrent
by Alex Parker

Does the Cook County Sheriff’s Department actually employ 15 elevator operators?

If you were to look at the department’s 2010 budget, you’d see that more than $527,000 went to pay elevator operators at various county locations.

You’d also see that more than $119,000 is reserved for two marble polishers. And more than $800,000 goes to pay 17 window washers.

Some might call it typical county waste.

Not exactly.

While the sheriff’s department does indeed employ people whose jobs are described as “elevator operator,” “elevator starter” and “marble washer,” the titles are leftover from a bygone era, says Steve Patterson, spokesman for Sheriff Tom Dart.

“Those are all unionized custodial employees. They’re job titles historically were elevator operator, marble polisher, window washer. The job responsibilities are far greater than they were,” Patterson says. “The unionized position still says 'elevator operator.' That is part of the title, but not completely.”

Those employed as elevator operators now staff information kiosks at county buildings.

“That was to reflect that while at one time that's what they were, they no longer do that, even though their unionized job title says that,” Patterson says. “So if you walk in the Daley Center and see a person at an information desk, that's the person.”

The pair of marble polishers sweep and polish floors at county buildings. Some floors are made of marble.

As for the 17 window washers that cost the county more than $800,000 a year, they indeed are charged with cleaning every window at county buildings. The sheriff’s department is in charge of county custodial services, which is why these non-law enforcement positions fall under Dart’s budget.

Patterson says Dart’s office is hoping to eliminate the misleading job titles, converting all the titles to custodial positions.

But to the average citizen, it appears the county is paying people to push buttons in elevators, underscoring the need for a long-sought after audit of county employees’ job descriptions, says Commissioner Tony Peraica.

“You have this entire budget that has fiction and fraudulent job descriptions throughout, that does not reflect the work being done in those positions,” he says.

But commissioners have delayed a comprehensive audit for several years, citing its $2 million price tag.

Peraica says the discrepancy in job titles versus job duties also presents compliance problems with Shakman decrees, court orders that bar some public employees to be hired based on political factors.

“There is a difference in determining what are jobs that are not covered by the Shakman decree, and jobs that are,” Peraica says.



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