09/10/2009 04:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Give School Janitors Paid Sick Days

Germs. Yet another thing wrong with privatizing public sector jobs: germs. In 1996, Chicago Public Schools privatized janitorial services. To trim costs, they cut janitors' jobs and contracted them out to a company that doesn't provide paid sick time. Back then, it was a short-sighted way to save money. Rather than resolving productivity disputes with more accountability, it pitted students against poorly paid employees. Today, in the era of the H1N1 virus, privatization's unforeseen consequences are even worse.

It's hard to believe that the contractor who provides janitors to 600 Chicago schools does not allow any paid sick days. If this outrages you, it should. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Secretary of Health and Human Services implore sick people to stay home and recover. Employers anxious about sick-time cheats should provide limits and supervision, not eliminate benefits.

"No paid sick time" is an immoral policy at best. And at worst, it is a policy that could endanger the health of children and their parents, ultimately costing families across Chicago in lost wages and their own sick time. Chicago Public Radio reported Tuesday that Service Employees International Union is calling attention to this wrong-headed policy.

Sick janitors may mop, wipe, wash and sweep. But a janitor with the flu, especially one as contagious as H1N1, can still leave a trail of germs in bathrooms, locker rooms and cafeterias. If these germs are transmitted to students -- forcing a parent to stay home as a caregiver -- the consequences of an ill-conceived sick-time policy can infect our schools, our families and our own workplaces. Like a virus.