1 Some Janitors May Be Joining Chicago Teachers
2 Striking Teachers Draw Support from Parents
Some Janitors May Be Joining Chicago Teachers on the Picket Lines.
By Linda Lutton
September 12, 2012
Tom Balanoff, president of SEIU Local 1, says many of
the 1,500 janitors who work in Chicago public schools
have wanted to join striking teachers. Balanoff says
he’s now filed a notice that could make that possible.
"On Friday, there very well may be Local 1
membersjanitorswho will stand outside and support the
teachers instead of go to work."
Balanoff was among more than a dozen union leaders,
representing everyone from nurses to electricians to
police, who voiced support for striking teachers
yesterday. State and national teachers union officials
were there as well, including Randi Weingarten, the
president of the American Federation of Teachers, the
parent union of the Chicago Teachers Union. They spoke
outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters.
Robert Kelly is head of the CTA rail workers’ union.
"Although our teachers are not in the classroom today
teaching, they stand here today teaching all of us what
is right when they fight for what is rightwhat is
The leaders said the labor movement had to fight to get
free public education for every child, and now has to
fight to protect it.
In Chicago, Striking Teachers Draw Support from Parents Whose Kids Can't go to School
By Don Babwin, Associated Press
September 11, 2012
As Chicago teachers walked the picket lines for a second
day, they were joined by many of the very people who are
most inconvenienced by their walkout: the parents who
must now scramble to find a place for children to pass
the time or for babysitters.
Mothers and fathers _ some with their kids in tow _ are
marching with the teachers. Other parents are honking
their encouragement from cars or planting yard signs
that announce their support in English and Spanish.
Unions are still hallowed organizations in Chicago, and
the teachers union holds a special place of honor in
many households where children often grow up to join the
same police, firefighter or trade unions as their
parents and grandparents.
"I'm going to stay strong, behind the teachers," said
the Rev. Michael Grant, who joined teachers on the
picket line Tuesday. "My son says he's proud, `You are
supporting my teacher.'"
But one question looming over the contract talks is
whether parents will continue to stand behind teachers
if students are left idle for days or weeks.
Mary Bryan, the grandmother of two students at Shoop
Academy on the city's far South Side, supports the
teachers because she see "the frustration, the overwork
they have." A protracted labor battle, she said, would
"test the support" of many families.
Parents "should stick with them, but they might demand
teachers go back to work," Bryan added.
To win friends, the union has engaged in something of a
publicity campaign, telling parents repeatedly about
problems with schools and the barriers that have made it
more difficult to serve their kids. They cite classrooms
that are stifling hot without air conditioning,
important books that are unavailable and supplies as
basic as toilet paper that are sometimes in short
"They've been keeping me informed about that for months
and months," Grant said.
It was a shrewd tactic, said Robert Bruno, professor of
labor and employment relations at the University of
Illinois at Chicago.
"This union figured out they couldn't assume the public
would be on their side so they went out and actively
engaged in getting parent support," Bruno said. "They
worked like the devil to get it."
But, said some reform advocates, public opinion could
swing against the union relatively soon if the dispute
seems to carry on with no resolution in sight.
Juan Jose Gonzalez is the Chicago director for the
education advocacy group Stand for Children, which has
hundreds of parent volunteers and was instrumental in
pushing legislative reforms in Illinois. He says parents
"are all over the map" in terms of their support for
teachers or the school district.
"Within a day or two, all parents are going to turn
their ire toward the strike," Gonzalez said. "As parents
see what the district offers and see the teachers not
counter-propose, they will become increasingly
frustrated with the grandstanding."
During the last Chicago teachers strike in 1987, Bill
Werme and his wife got so angry they pulled their
daughter out of public school and enrolled her in
private school for second grade. Parents could face the
same choice now.
"If it was me, my support would whittle away," Werme
Already, there are some parents who don't understand why
teachers would not readily accept a contract offering a
16 percent raise over four years _ far more than most
American employers are giving in the aftermath of the
Rodney Espiritu, a stay-at-home dad whose 4-year-old son
just started preschool, said the low test scores he's
read about suggest teachers don't have "much of a foot
to stand on."
Chicago's history of labor strength is one reason why
this dispute is seen as a test of organized labor at a
time when unions' political influence is being
threatened across the country.
"What you're seeing here is a massive show of solidarity
that is as widespread as anything we've seen in
decades," said Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago
Federation of Labor.
On Tuesday, union President Karen Lewis said
negotiations were still far apart, with the two sides
having agreed to just six of 48 articles in the
contract. She said it would be "lunacy" to expect an
agreement before Wednesday.
In many ways, Chicago is the perfect place for teachers
to wage this battle, Bruno said.
With an estimated half million workers in the
metropolitan area belonging to a union and a full
quarter of the workforce unionized _ a percentage
rivaled only by New York and a handful of other big
cities, Bruno said teachers have the most sympathetic
public they could hope for.
"I do think if you were going to craft or design a
strategy and determine the geographical space with the
right politics, the right values, you couldn't do better
than Chicago," he said.
Such an environment is the envy of other unions around
the country that have been pushed around for years and
forced into concessions they felt powerless to fight.
"I think many of our teachers are afraid of standing up
because they fear retribution _ losing their jobs," said
Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of
Teachers, which walked out for 16 days six years ago.
"There is a greater emphasis on going along to get
Unlike Chicago, where thousands of teachers could be
seen marching in the streets, Johnson worried what might
happen if Detroit teachers voted to strike again but
failed to get full participation.
"The worse thing of all is to have an action and then
have just 10 percent of your members take part," he
Chicago's union membership includes every teacher in the
city except for those in charter schools.
Ellen Bernstein, president of the teachers union in
Albuquerque, where only about half of the 7,500 teachers
are in the union, said a strike in her district would
"As long as only 50 percent of your teachers are in the
union, it is clear we would not prevail. It takes
solidarity _ and that's what Chicago has," she said.
At the same time, Chicago's stature as a union town
raises the stakes for all unions. And it is particularly
important to other teachers who are engaged in or are
contemplating a similar tug-of-war with city officials.
"If you can weaken the capacity of the teachers union to
represent its members in Chicago, then there is simply
no place across the land where you couldn't do this,"
Bruno said. "It will mean that we'll be locked into a
level of reduced union relevance for a generation."
[Associated Press writers Michael Tarm and Jason Keyser
contributed to this report.]
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