Chicago Teachers Union protests downtown against school closings as 127 detained [Examiner]

by John Presta, March 28, 2013

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said yesterday at a press conference that the time for negotiations on school closings is over. However, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), CTU President Karen Lewis, UNITE HERE Local 1, SEIU Local 1, and the Grassroots Education Movement didn’t get the message.

A rally and march was held in downtown Chicago, starting at the Daley Center, circled around Chicago City Hall and to the Chicago Board of Education. The CTU “rallied and marched in opposition to a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and mayor’s office plan for mass school closings.”

The purpose was to call on the city of Chicago and the Chicago Board of Education to stop all school closings and slow the expansion of the charter schools to focus investment in public schools, working-class families and our city’s struggling neighborhoods.

CTU President Karen Lewis repeated her assertion that the Chicago Public Schools’ decision to close schools with predominantly African-American enrollments is racist.

“Let’s not pretend that when you close schools on the South and West sides, the children affected aren’t black,” Lewis said. “Let’s not pretend that’s not racist.”

CTU President Karen Lewis speaks to demonstrators protesting school closings in Chicago, Illinois. Photo credit: (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In what the CTU calls an act of “civil disobedience,” more than 127 members of the organizing unions were arrested during a sit-in in the southbound lane of LaSalle Street outside of City Hall, according to a CTU press release. However, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Chicago Police Department said that they were not arrested, but instead issued “tickets.” Among those arrested (or ticketed) were Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey and Recording Secretary, Michael Brunson.

“It is an obscene travesty for them to refer to what they’ve been doing as a civil rights movement,” said Brunson of the Board. “So now, we are going to show them what a real civil rights movement looks like, and what a real civil rights movement feels like.”

A crowd of close to 5,000—well above Chicago Police Department estimates of 700—gathered in Daley Plaza before swelling to 7,000 and marching through the streets of downtown Chicago. Throughout the march, CTU President Karen Lewis was flanked by longtime civil rights activists, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Chicago).

Karen Lewis urged the students, teachers and families in the Daley plaza crowd to stay strong in the face of school closings and pledged union support from the streets to the court of law. Lewis also sent a message to the thousands of students that CPS is attempting to displace.

Karen Lewis urged parents to not accept the school closings with another act of disobedience. “On the first day of school, you show up at your real school. Don’t let these people take your school!”

John is the author of an award-winning book, the 2010 Winner of the USA National Best Book award for African American studies, published by The Elevator Group, Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots. Also available an eBook on Amazon. John is also a member of the Society of Midland Authors and is a book reviewer of political books for the New York Journal of Books. John has volunteered for many political campaigns.

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Police Detain 127 Protesters After Sit-In At Rally Opposing School Closings [CBS Chicago]

by CBS Chicago, March 27, 2013

Protesters filled Daley Plaza, marched through the Loop and rallied again in front of Chicago Public Schools headquarters to protest the board’s plan to close 53 schools on Wednesday. More than 100 of those protesters were detained and ticketed after staging a sit-in outside City Hall.

Union leaders, education activists, Rev, Jesse Jackson, and even students criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the board and the process for selecting which schools should close at the end of the school year.

The protest began with a rally in Daley Plaza before marching to City Hall and on to CPS Headquarters at 125 S. Clark Street for another rally.

Chicago Police said they detained and cited 127 protestors who were staging a sit-down outside City Hall on LaSalle Street.

Greg Simmons was part of the sit-down on LaSalle.

“We need to protect our children and save our school,” Simmons said.

At the rally in Daley Plaza, CTU President Karen Lewis told the protesters, “Our schools are under attack. What do we do? Fight back. So let me tell you what you’re going to do. On the first day of school, you show up at your real school. You show up at your real school. Don’t let these people take your schools.”

Sarah Larkin of Andersonville was walking by the Daley Plaza rally with her daughter, who’ll be going into kindergarten. She says she understands why the schools need to close.

“Being somewhat business-minded, I understand the need to do this,” Larkin said. “Our neighborhood school is closing and feeding into three separate schools. We don’t know which school she’s going to yet so it’s a little frustrating on our end. But we’ll figure it out.”

On Monday, there was a smaller rally in the Loop, when a group of 50 to 70 students from various high schools marched from CPS headquarters to the mayor’s office at City Hall, to express their concerns about overcrowding and safety.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett released a statement saying, “…as a former teacher and principal who has lived through school closings, I know this is not easy for our communities. +But as CEO of this District, I need to make decisions that put our children first…”

CPS has said closing and consolidating schools can be emotional and difficult for everyone involved, but said the closings are necessary because too many schools are half-empty.

The district said the closings will free up resources to improve the schools where students are relocated, and help trim a projected $1 billion budget shortfall.

Click here for full video coverage!

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CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett May Have Met Her Match in Chicago [In These Times]

by Kenzo Shibata, March 27, 2013

A grim scene at Chicago’s Attucks Elementary School, which closed in 2008. Last week, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that 61 public schools will be closing before the start of the next school year. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Goldbaum)

This afternoon at 4pm, a coalition of Chicago teachers, parents, students and community members will meet at Daley Plaza to voice their displeasure with the announcement last week by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett that 61 Chicago Public Schools will be closed before the opening of the 2013-2014 school year.

Byrd-Bennett is the latest in a long line of well-compensated mayoral proxies pushing forward the slow and steady destruction of Chicago schools, a process that has been going on for decades. In 1995, the Illinois general assembly passed an omnibus of reactionary school reforms, called the “Amendatory Act,” that restructured the governance of CPS. Under the new system, the Mayor of Chicago was given the power to appoint the entire Board of Education without any community oversight, the union’s ability to bargain over classroom issues was tossed out, and the superintendent was replaced with a “Chief Executive Officer,” mimicking the corporate structure of the business interests that pushed for these reforms.

Since the passage of the Amendatory Act, Chicago has seen six CEOs come and go, each leaving the system a little less stable than they found it. The first CEO under the Amendatory Act was Paul Vallas, who set schools on a path to becoming standardized testing factories. Vallas was followed by Arne Duncan, who was likeable enough to play basketball with some very important people (namely, Barack Obama, who later appointed him Secretary of Education). After Duncan, a succession of new CEOs shuffled through, closing public schools and opening charters at a pace on par with much of the rest of the country.

For most of the past two decades, the primary prerequisites for a CEO were an ability to address the media and a talent for glad-handing power brokers (and, in some cases, a willingness to fall on the sword after new policies failed). CEO were, essentially, spokespeople for the district who hobnobbed with the city’s elite. They were also involved in contract negotiations with the various unions in the schools, none of which had been acrimonious since the 1987 teachers strike.

However, the impatient Mayor Rahm Emanuel is operating in a very different political landscape than his predecessor, Mayor Richard Daley. Daley presided over 22 years of labor peace due to decades of “business unionism” in the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU)—a model where backroom deals and close relationships with management replace work actions. Daley’s ambitious plan to close public schools and replace them with charters was a long con, the equivalent of slowly turning up the heat until the frog is cooked. But this strategy inadvertently gave communities time to understand what was going on, and to organize a response. Many activists who came out of that movement took leadership roles in the CTU after ousting the business union leadership in 2010. (Full disclosure: I am a founding member of its current leadership caucus and the CTU’s new media coordinator). Last year, after Emanuel did everything within his power to avert the first teachers strike in 25 years and failed miserably, it became clear that a new type of boss would be necessary to speed up the process of busting the teachers union and turning over schools to the highest bidders. A new union and community coalition and growing public awareness around the failings of education reform meant that Mayor Emanuel had to find someone with experience executing unpopular mandates.

Fortunately for Emanuel, the answer was right in front of him: One month after the strike, CPS announced that CEO Jean-Claude Brizard was leaving the district by “mutual agreement” and that then-Chief Education Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett would be taking his place.  Byrd-Bennett can be thought of as something of a “cleaner,” like Harvey Keitel’s problem-solving character Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction: She comes in, takes care of business and leaves quickly. In the school system of the neoliberal era, the job of the cleaner is to close as many schools as possible and replace them with charter schools before the public catches on to the plan. After the announcement, the “chaos on Clark Street” (where CPS headquarters are located) intensified, and the media painted Byrd-Bennett as a phoenix rising above the ashes to save the public schools.

When Byrd-Bennett was appointed as Chief Education Officer of CPS in the spring of 2012, quickly and with little fanfare, her savior reputation preceded her. In Cleveland, where she was hired as schools CEO in 1998, Byrd-Bennett was called the “$300,000 wonder,” a reference to her salary. The narrative in Cleveland was that she expensive, but worth every penny. While media wrote glowing reports about her, Byrd-Bennett cut hundreds of teacher jobs and closed over 20 schools before leaving the district in 2006.

Flash forward to 2009, when Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Robert Bobb hired Byrd-Bennett as his “chief academic and accountability officer.” Over the next two years, Bobb and Byrd-Bennett closed 59 schools and cut 30 percent of the workforce. In the tradition of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s “Renaissance 2010” plan and Philadelphia’s “Imagine 2014,” in March 2011, DPS announced its “Renaissance Plan 2012,” which included adding 41 charters, making 29 percent of district run by private interests.

Byrd-Bennett  has proven herself so skilled at the art of “cleaning” districts that she has part time job with the Broad Academy training school superintendents in the ways of corporate education reform. The Broad Academy is a billionaire-funded venture that closely resembles Teach for America, but it trains aspiring school district superintendents instead of teachers.  “Broadies” often come from business or law backgrounds and have a keen interest in neoliberal education reform. After training, Broadies are placed in high-profile positions in urban school districts throughout the country. The Academy’s graduates include Jean-Claude Brizard , Detroit’s Robert Bobb, and CPS newcomer Chief of Innovation and Incubation Officer Jack Elsey, who worked with Bobb and Byrd-Bennett in Detroit.

The Broad Academy is an initiative of the Broad Foundation, which literally wrote the book on closing public schools, School Closure Guide: Closing Schools as a Means for Addressing Budgetary Challenges. One of the more telling sections provides tips for effective public relations, offering detailed instructions on how to make the public feel like they are part of the process without actually listening to them. For example, the guide offers instructions for messaging to the media, offering a table of “ineffective statements” and offering “possible alternatives” for each. Instead of saying that “the district is operating in the red and this cannot continue,” the book suggests a more effective alternative: “The fact that the district is operating in the red prevents us from providing the best possible educational opportunities to the children in this community in a sustained way.” Lines like these were delivered by CPS bureaucrats at school closing hearings that took place earlier this year in various Chicago neighborhoods, which were attended by thousands of concerned community members.

But if Emanuel brought Byrd-Bennett in to work the same kind of charter magic in Chicago that she did in Detroit, he may be dismayed to encounter one important difference: Chicago is now in a good position to fight back. The school closings hearings were packed with engaged, motivated citizens, and the teachers union is more organized than it’s been in three decades. During its popular and successful strike, the union’s approval rating climbed while the mayor’s fell—public opinion polls showed that taxpayers blamed Emanuel for the ugliness that took place during negotiations. The CTU’s current leadership has built relationships with community leaders and organizations, forming a coalition to fight the slash-and-burn privatization pushed by the Board of Education and its corporate sponsors, and has even hosted civil disobedience trainings open to the public. This afternoon’s protest will serve as further evidence that Emanuel is indeed up against a new opponent, one strong enough that not even the best “cleaner” may be able to defeat it.

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City And CPS Gear Up For Protests Over School Closures [Chicagoist]

by Sarah-Ji, March 27, 2013 

Thousands of Chicago Public School parents, students, teachers and supporters are expected to take to the streets Wednesday afternoon to protest the city’s decision to close 54 schools. At 4 p.m., protesters will assemble in Daley Plaza for a march that will pass through the loop and later end in front of CPS headquarters at 125 S. Clark St.

According to a press release from Unite Here, who is cosponsoring the rally along with the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU, the Grassroots Education Movement and other groups, at least 150 parents, workers and students will engage in civil disobedience in front of City Hall at some point during the march.

In the release, CTU President Karen Lewis said:

“Since December, CPS and its appointed utilization commission has made a show of being open to public input on their plans to close 13 percent of the schools in our district. Today will bring all the emotion and anger from those network meetings together in one place and show the entities in power what real power is.”

On Monday CPS students held a rally downtown over the school closings, as shown in the photos above. DNAinfo reports a group called Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools marched from CPS headquarters to City Hall to deliver a letter to Mayor Emanuel demanding a moratorium on the closings. Isis Hernandez, a student at Stowe Elementary, which avoided closure, said, “It’s not just about my school. It’s about saving all our schools…We have the same right to a decent education as a rich kid.”

In response to what could be the largest education rally in Chicago since the CTU strike in September, The Nation reports security staff at the board of education set up barricades in front of the building this morning. Chicago Public School officials also sent a memo to principals last week regarding potential acts of civil disobedience at schools on the closure list.

The memo advises principals to report names of teachers and students involved in actions, along with documenting the type of civil disobedience, which includes walk outs, sit ins and “Occupy” tactics, as well as noting which media outlets might be present. CPS officials say the memo was to provide guidance to principals should civil disobedience take place. Spokeswoman Becky Carroll said, “It’s our obligation to put the safety and learning of our children before anything else.”

The anonymous source who released the information to the CTU seemed to suggest the memo was meant to intimidate protesters. In a press release from the CTU, the individual said, “They’ve asked us to do a lot of things that I’m not happy with, but some of this is going too far.” Karen Lewis echoed that sentiment, stating, “Why are they asking principals to work as agents of this administration when they are the ones who have created a climate of chaos? Civil disobedience is a direct response to unjust policies and practices.”

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Thousands of Chicagoans Protest City’s Decision to Close More Than 50 Chicago Public Schools

crowd marching

Thousands of protesters from unions, community organizations and schools across the city came together on March 27 to decry school closings instigated by Mayor Emanuel and CPS.

CHICAGO—A massive rally and downtown march sponsored by SEIU Local 1, UNITE HERE Local 1, the Grassroots Education Movement and the Chicago Teachers Union drew a crowd of close to 5,000—well above Chicago Police Department estimates. The protesters gathered in Daley Plaza before marching through the streets of downtown Chicago and around City Hall. The diminished rally participant number was yet another attempt by Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel to silence the voices of our city’s parents, teachers, workers, and most of all our children.

More than 100 parents, students, school employees, and community members’ banded together and sat down on LaSalle Street in front of City Hall in an act of civil disobedience to save Chicago’s schools—127 people were ticketed and detained, including SEIU Local 1 CPS custodians and President Tom Balanoff. The protesters called on the City of Chicago and its Board of Education to stop school closings and slow the expansion of the charter system in order to focus investment in our public school children, working families and our city’s struggling neighborhoods.

The rally united people across the city who oppose the City’s plan to close schools, expand charters and eliminate good, middle class jobs. The current proposals not only put students at risk for bad educational outcomes and increase exposure to violence, but devastate thousands of workers and their families.

UNITE HERE, SEIU Local 1 and Chicago Teachers Union represent school workers; the unions’ 125,000 households make up roughly 15 percent of the city’s population. These union members are not just workers in the public schools, they are parents and grandparents to 92,000 school aged children who overwhelming attend Chicago Public Schools.

crowdUNITE HERE Local 1, SEIU Local 1, the Grassroots Education Movement and the Chicago Teachers Union were joined by a broad-based coalition of community organizations, including: Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Arab American Action Network, Blocks Together, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Bridgeport Alliance, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign, Grassroots Collaborative, Jobs With Justice, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Northside Action for Justice, PACE, Parents 4 Teachers, Chicago PEACE, People for Community Recovery, Pilsen Alliance, SEIU Local 73, Southside Together Organizing for Power, Southsiders Organized for Unity & Liberation, Stand Up Chicago, Teachers for Social Justice and VOYCE.

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Robin Kelly Supports Local Security Officers In Their Call For A Living Wage (VIDEO) [Progress Illinois]

by Steven Ross Johnson, March 25, 2013

Citing a lack of economic opportunities as the driving force behind the high rate of gun violence in Chicago over the last several years, Illinois 2nd Congressional District candidate Robin Kelly stood alongside union security officers Saturday to call on the city’s downtown building owners to provide fairer compensation for their emergency “first responders.”

The democratic nominee to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., held a press conference with members of SEIU* Local 1, who represent more than 2,000 Chicago security officers, as the organization prepares to enter into negotiations next month with building owners and contractors over a new contract.

Speaking in front of about 20 security officers, Kelly thanked them for their efforts in helping to keep the city safe, adding that downtown building owners should provide the workers with stability through a “livable wage” in the same way the guards provide safety when responding to an emergency.

“These are people who protect us,” Kelly said. “They’re giving their all, they’re giving their best to protect us, we need to protect them so they can eat, buy medicine, pay rent and all the things they need to do to live a quality life.”

Rita Young, a security officer for three years, said the $11.05 she makes an hour simply is not enough in light of the potential risks she faces each day at work.

“I live with fear at work sometimes,” Young said. “We are the first responders putting our lives on the line.”

Here is more from the press conference:

SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff said that for many of the downtown security officers, the risks involved in their jobs pale in comparison to the dangers they face within the neighborhoods they reside; communities he contends have become unsafe over time due to a lack of opportunities for a sustainable life.

“Security officers downtown and throughout this city work hard to make sure that buildings are safe, and tenants are safe,” Balanoff said. “Oftentimes based on what they earn, they have to go home to communities that are not safe. They are not safe for one reason, and that reason is that people don’t have jobs, and many of the jobs they do have don’t really provide sustainable wages.”

Indeed, data from the city’s Department of Public Health suggests a link between the rate of poverty and the rate of violent crime. From 2004 to 2008, neighborhoods that had the highest murder rates also had some of the city’s highest rates of poverty and unemployment.

By providing workers with better wages, Balanoff said it would help toward revitalizing those affected neighborhoods and reducing the level of violence in a city that saw more than 500 murders in 2012, and more than 60 so far in 2013.

“It’s time that we have a real recovery in this country,” Balanoff said. “We need to really start to understand that if we’re going to return this country to its greatness, we need to start returning the promise of America to working people.”

Kelly, whose primary campaign’s focus on stopping gun violence was greatly helped by a heavy barrage of TV advertising paid by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s super PAC Independence USA, says providing more good paying jobs is key toward eliminating a lot of the hopelessness felt throughout many violent neighborhoods.

“First and foremost people want jobs, and if people have jobs, then they may not have to do the other things that some people turn to,” Kelly said. “If you don’t have any money, worrying about a roof over your head, it’s tough to take advantage of opportunities that would get you into a better situation.”

Here is more from Balanoff and Kelly:

The downtown security officers’ contract ends April 21. According to SEIU, the average hourly pay for security officers is around $10. SEIU member Jimmy Felton, who has worked as a security officer for the past 11 years, says the union will seek to increase the hourly rate by about $3 an hour. “What we’re really looking for is respect,” Felton said.

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Security Officers Seeking Higher Wages in Upcoming Contract [Progress Illinois]

by Ashlee Rezin, March 14, 2013

Tonya Yarbrough, a security officer at the Chicago Stock Exchange at 440 South LaSalle St., wakes up at 5 a.m. every day to commute on the Green Line from Englewood to be at work by 7 a.m. in downtown Chicago. She says she feels safer at work than she does at home.

“If I were paid a little bit more maybe I’d be able to make a better life for myself and my family,” she said. “Maybe I could move to a better neighborhood.”

Yarbrough, 42, a born-and-raised Chicagoan and security officer of nine years, makes $12.65 an hour.

“We deserve more for what we do, if people want to break into these buildings, we’re the ones that have to deal with them, not management,” she said, noting that she’s often dealt with violent people while on the job.

A mother of three with three grandchildren under the age of seven, she lives on West 73rd St. and South Ashland Blvd., and says she is constantly scared for the safety of her family. “My six-year-old grandson can’t go outside when he wants to,” she said.

“We work downtown and keep these beautiful buildings safe and then come home to these bad neighborhoods. These companies make so much money and while management is upstairs, we’re the ones down here dealing with these people.”

More than 2,000 of Chicago’s security officers represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 will have their contract expire on April 21. Bargaining with contractors and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) could begin in latch March, and officers are calling for a wage increase.

More than 100 security officers and their supporters gathered for a downtown march and demonstration last week to rally for higher wages.

“Security officers are often first responders on the scene, they’re there before the paramedics or police officers get there and they’re saying they deserve higher wages,” said Izabela Miltko, a spokesperson for SEIU. “They do a very important job in Chicago, but they’re not making much in wages.

More than 23 percent, or 629,464 Chicagoans, lived below the poverty level in 2011, which was an annual income of $11,484 for one person, according to the Social IMPACT Research Center. The highest instances of poverty occur on the South and West Sides. In Illinois, 31 percent of African-Americans are in poverty, while only 11 percent of whites lived below the poverty line.

According to the 2009 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, Chicago has the second highest rate of income disparity.

On average, SEIU’s security officers make $10 hourly, or $20,400 annually. Miltko said at most they make slightly more than $12 hourly.

“Majority of our security officers are African-American and they keep these beautiful downtown buildings safe, such as the Board of Trade, but they go home to these neighborhoods where they don’t feel safe at all and higher wages could help that,” she said.

On March 23, SEIU is hosting a convention for the union’s security officers to kick off contract negotiations. The event is aimed at gaining support for security officers during the bargaining process and Miltko said former State Rep. Robin Kelly, Democratic nominee in the special election for Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District, is slated to attend.

Tonya Yarbrough on duty.

“If people had good jobs, maybe there wouldn’t be so much violence in these neighborhoods. When people don’t have a job there’s nothing else for them to do but be on the streets,” said Yarbrough.

“When you don’t have a good income it lowers your morale and makes you feel bad about yourself because you’re not able to provide for yourself and your family,” she said. “Why should I have to be downtown securing these billion dollar buildings, then go back to my neighborhood where people are car-jacking and shooting?”

“I know they can’t pay me what I’m worth, but at least show me that I’m appreciated and compensate me appropriately.”

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2013 Security Contract Convention

Rita Press

Security Officer Rita Young speaks to the press on March 23rd.

Despite working for multi-billion dollar corporations in one of the most dangerous cities in the US, most Chicago Security Officers qualify for some form of public assistance. After a long day of protecting Chicago institutions such as the Board of Trade or the opulent residential buildings located in Chicago’s Gold Coast, downtown security officers return home to some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city. In a city with one of the highest GDPs in the world, this kind of income inequality is unacceptable.

There were over 500 murders in Chicago last year; 80 percent of the killings took place on Chicago’s South and West sides—neighborhoods that most security officers call home. Poverty, unemployment, and violence plague these ares of the city. By paying poverty wages, corporations are forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for a majority of full time security officers’ basic needs.

SEIU 071

2nd Congressional Candidate Robin Kelly kicked off the March 23rd Convention.

Chicago security officers are taking a stand in 2013 for good jobs, better wages, and a safe and prosperous city for us all. On March 23rd, officers from all over the Midwest attended the 2013 Security Contract Convention. Second Congressional Candidate Robin Kelly kicked off the convention, stating her support for Chicago’s working class.

After an inspiring morning filled with musical performances and riveting speeches by community and union leaders, the Security Bargaining Committee introduced themselves to the officers and stated they were prepared to fight for:

  • Better Wages
  • Stronger Healthcare
  • Officers’ Rights on the Job

Security officers are making a stand for Good Jobs and a Safe Chicago. Contract bargaining begins on April 4th, and Chicago’s security officers will be out in force to win the contract that they deserve.

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Good Jobs, Safe Chicago

SEIU 099 Banner CropSaturday, March 23rd, 2013 saw Chicago Security Officers take a stand for Good Jobs and a Safe Chicago at Local 1’s Security Contract Convention. Security Officers are uniting in 2013 to fight for good jobs, better wages, and a safe and prosperous city for us all.


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Downtown Chicago Security Officers Don’t Feel Safe at Home

Antoinette Smith, SEIU Local 1 Security Officer

Antoinette Smith, SEIU Local 1 Security Officer

Antoinette Smith protects downtown Chicago. As a security officer on the CTA rails for five years, she is the first line of defense in a city that has become increasingly dangerous with a record high murder rate and fewer police on the streets. Antoinette and thousands of her fellow officers are fighting for a new union contract to secure a better future for their families. Security officers keep Chicago safe, but they don’t feel safe at home; they believe that higher wages for working families in Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods could help quell the violence.

Employed by private security companies, officers like Antoinette protect people taking public transportation, visiting or working in commercial office buildings and enjoying public spaces. Despite the danger and importance of their job, security officers are paid as little as $10 an hour, or $20,400 a year, which is below the poverty level for a family. Even though she works full time, Antoinette still struggles with monthly bills and earns so little that she qualifies for public aid.

Antoinette and her colleagues see a vital link between low wage workers’ struggle with poverty and the gun violence crisis in Chicago. Most SEIU Local 1 security officers live in Chicago’s West and South side neighborhoods where more than 80 percent of last year’s 534 murders occurred. After work, Antoinette returns home to Chatham on Chicago’s South Side, a neighborhood which has felt the costs of the city’s violence epidemic: “I went to nine funerals last year, and only one was for a person over 70,” she says.

While they help keep Chicago secure for workers, business and tourists, the officers do not feel safe at home and struggle to build a better future for their families. That’s why the officers launched a city-wide petition drive in support of President Obama’s legislative proposal to reduce gun violence. By uniting to both improve wages for security officers and address the epidemic of gun violence in Chicago, the officers are shining a light on the underlying cause of neighborhood violence: rising poverty and falling wages.

“We need better jobs. Better jobs lead to better communities. Better communities lead to a safe Chicago,” Antoinette contends. The city’s union security officers are calling on Chicago’s security contractors, corporations and banks to do their part and provide good jobs. Ensuring that workers have good, family-sustaining jobs is a direct route toward improving conditions in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods and lowering the murder rate. Employers should take their cue from Antoinette: “We don’t live in a perfect world,” she says, “but we can make it better.”

Private security officers in Chicago organized a union to win better pay and a voice on the job in the 1970s. The officers have made great strides
by coming together, but the improvements to wages and standards have not kept pace with the wealth of the booming industry or the increasing demands of this important and dangerous job. The downtown security officers’ union contract expires April 21 and directly affects more than 2,000 Chicago officers. Bargaining will begin in late March.

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