Late last week, more than 30,000 Chicago teachers and school support workers walked off the job in a historic show of solidarity. For the first time ever, city teachers, special education classroom assistants, bus aides, custodians, and security officers are on strike together to demand good jobs, clean and safe schools, smaller class sizes and resources for students experiencing homelessness.
Members of SEIU Local 73 help students feel safe and supported in class, keep buildings clean and secure, and help special education students get to and from school every day. These hardworking Chicagoans are proud of the contributions they make to our schools and proud to be standing arm-in-arm with striking teachers whose demands for education justice and affordable housing have resonated with families all over the city.
But there’s more to the story. Thousands of school workers live paycheck to paycheck, with many working second or third jobs to make ends meet. More than half of Chicago Public Schools support staff make less than $35,360 a year. Bus aides employed by CPS make an average of $15,759 a year.
Yolanda McGrone, a CPS bus aide, wakes up at 3:45 a.m. every school day and works three hours on the morning route and three hours in the evening route getting special education students to and from school. In between her split shift, Yolanda works as a home health caregiver for two different agencies. Friday through Saturday, she works 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to support her children.
There’s no excuse for this — not just because Yolanda cares for some of Chicago’s most vulnerable children and not just because she works for the third-largest school system in the country.
There’s no excuse for this because no one who works in our city should live in poverty. Period.
Yolanda is one of tens of thousands of Chicagoans who are demanding a better city for all of us — one where every family in every neighborhood can thrive. She’s risking the job she loves and the life she has built for her family to take a stand for a city that works for everyone.
Yolanda and 7,500 other school support workers have the chance to raise their wages and improve their lives because they are united in SEIU Local 73. At times like this, it’s clear that every underpaid worker in Chicago deserves a fair shot to bargain for better jobs. We need unions for all workers in Chicagoland, no matter where they work, what zip code they live in, or the color of their skin.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has a chance to side with teachers, low-wage workers and students. That’s not a sign of weakness. It’s the kind of leadership our city needs.
By taking a stand for our schools, our communities, and good jobs for everyone in our city, members of the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 have shown us what solidarity means and what courage looks like. They are an inspiration for all working people in our city and show the way forward to win the good jobs that Chicago needs.
Dian Palmer is president of SEIU Local 73 representing more than 29,000 workers primarily in public service in Illinois and Indiana.
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