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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Malcolm Rashad

Malcolm RashadMalcolm Rashad has worked as a security officer for a company called Securatex for a year and a half. He currently works full-time protecting a Fresenius dialysis center on Chicago’s south side.

Malcolm works hard and puts himself at risk to keep the patients at Fresenius safe, yet he is paid just $8.75 an hour and doesn’t have access to affordable health insurance himself.

According to a recent survey of Securatex officers, Malcolm is not alone. A full third of officers who responded report that they rely on public assistance for health care. Effectively, taxpayers are subsidizing these poverty-wage jobs.

Malcolm can’t afford a place of his own on his Securatex wages, so he lives with his parents. He wants to go back to school, but he can’t afford that either. Malcolm’s situation is a sad example of how poverty-wage jobs trap hard-working people and their families in a cycle of poverty.

In addition to low wages, Malcolm and his coworkers have to struggle to compensate for chronic understaffing and near-constant turnover. Malcolm is often forced to work 13 to 16 hours at a time because the company cannot find officers to cover the shifts. High turnover and understaffing in the security industry means fewer experienced officers protecting our homes, offices, and health care facilities.

“When we need to go home after our shift they sometimes just say they have no one to cover us,” he says. “If we can’t stay over time they threaten to fire us.” Malcom says that officers are less alert if they are exhausted and overworked, and fears that this could lead to someone making a dangerous mistake.

Recently, Malcolm approached Securatex management to ask for more training. 66% of Securatex officers surveyed report that they received 8 or fewer hours of training before they started working, and 85% of respondents report that they have never received refresher training. Malcolm’s request was denied; Securatex refused to pay for more training. Malcolm and his coworkers believe that every Securatex officer should feel prepared for the important and dangerous job of protecting the public—that’s why they’re organizing a union.

Malcolm used to have a union job. He saw first-hand that having a union benefitted both workers and the public. He and his coworkers had benefits, fair wages, and affordable health care. Consequently, turnover was low.

“If we had a union, turnover would be lower, and we would have a way to fix problems at work,” Malcolm says.

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Janitors Union Chief: Ditch O’Hare Cleaning Contract [Chicago Sun-Times]

by Dan Mihalopoulos

The head of a politically powerful janitors’ union on Tuesday renewed calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to cancel a new cleaning contract at O’Hare Airport that could be worth almost $100 million.

Tom Balanoff, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1, alleged United Maintenance Co. Inc. violated the city’s rule requiring bidders for city business to provide officials with “current” information on their ownership.

Union member Oscar Sandoval joined SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff at Tuesday's press conference.

Balanoff’s call followed a Chicago Sun-Times report that United executives took a year­ to update their initial report to the city and reveal how president and CEO Richard Simon had sold a 50 percent stake in the South Loop firm to a private-equity fund. By that time, United had landed the O’Hare deal.

“This is a serious deception,” Balanoff told reporters outside Emanuel’s office. “It’s important to know who owns these companies. We all know the history of Chicago. These [rules] were put in place to avoid conflicts of interest.”

Emanuel aides acknowledge Simon sold a 50 percent stake in United’s holding company to Loop-based Invision Capital I LP in December 2011 but did not inform the city of the ownership change until last month.

City purchasing rules dictate that economic-disclosure statements from bidders “must be kept current.” Failing to do so can result in the city voiding contracts.

But in a statement, the mayor’s office said “the city is not required to take any action” against companies that don’t file updated disclosures.

Emanuel spokeswoman Kathleen Strand told the Sun-Times administration officials believe United’s one-year delay in bringing its ownership disclosures current was an unintentional oversight.

Strand said the O’Hare contract was United’s first deal with the city. “So they’re not old hands” at filing the disclosures, she said.

Simon had been described as the firm’s sole owner when United first bid for the O’Hare deal in September 2011. The disclosure document submitted then was the only publicly filed record of United’s ownership until after the Emanuel administration awarded the $99.4 million contract on Oct. 31. The deal went into effect a month ago.

The statement from Emanuel’s office Tuesday also accused union leaders of a “campaign to smear the mayor.” The service employees’ union, which was neutral in the 2011 election that Emanuel won, has alleged for months that the United deal would cost its members jobs.

City officials added that background checks on “the current United owners” turned up no reason not to give them the airport custodial work.

But it’s unclear whether city officials know the identities of any of the investors who own the part of United that Simon sold.

In their disclosures filed with the city, Invision executives said none of the firm’s owners hold a stake of more than 7.5 percent. That’s the city’s minimum standard for disclosing a company’s owners.

Invision listed a general partner, Robert Castillo, in its filing with the city last month. Castillo has not returned repeated phone calls.

A spokesman for United declined comment Tuesday.

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New ‘hygienic’ toilet seats at O’Hare aren’t all that clean (VIDEO) [Chicago Sun-Times]

By Dan Mihalopoulos, Wednesday, January 28, 2013

The motorized “hygienic seats” that a controversial new janitorial contractor installed recently at O’Hare Airport are not very hygienic after all: As the plastic wrapping rotates over seats, it drags up liquid from the rim of toilet bowls and leaves drops of that liquid atop seats, on the clear plastic film that’s supposed to be clean.

A toilet seat cover malfunction at O'Hare International Airport. | Sun-Times Media

The new plastic-wrapped toilet seats are being installed throughout the airport by United Maintenance Co. Inc., the contractor that began work last month under a five-year, $99.4 million deal with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

On Monday, city officials and a top executive for United said they have experienced problems with water pressure and splashing at some O’Hare toilets. But Anthony D’Angelo, United’s director of compliance, said he did not know of the problem that the Chicago Sun-Times pointed out: “Our understanding is that it was clean water, not soiled water, on the seats.”

In a visit to a men’s restroom at O’Hare on Monday morning, the Sun-Times found that any liquid that happens to splash on the rim of a toilet bowl can end up on the seat, where the next user of the stall can unwittingly squat down onto a mess.

In the restrooms closest to the subway station at O’Hare, a reporter tested a reader complaint about the new seats by pouring some orange juice onto the rims of toilet bowls. After the reporter waved over the sensors that activate the hygienic seat motors, the plastic wrapping spun around the toilets—and some of the juice that had been on the rims ended up on the seats.

The same problem was not observed with the older seat covers that remain in use for now in other parts of the airport. D’Angelo said United chose to replace all existing hygienic seats after failing to reach agreement with the company that had supplied seat covers for the airport’s bathrooms for years.

The new “Sani Seat” devices installed on United’s watch are made by a company in New Jersey, according to the firm’s website. Company officials did not return calls Monday, but D’Angelo said that product was “vastly superior” to the old seats. “We think we’re doing a good job,” he said.

Unlike the old seats, the new devices do not feature a digital display indicating when a fresh cover is ready for use, even though United’s contract requires each stall to include “a display which clearly shows a new seat cover.”

The new seat covers also rotate when seats are up, the Sun-Times found, despite the requirement that they do not do that.

In a statement Monday, an Aviation Department spokeswoman said, “We are aware of no airport customer complaints about the toilet seat issue you mention.”

Emanuel also defended the deal with United recently after five aldermen called on the city’s inspector general to investigate it. The aldermen said they were responding to a Sun-Times report that United CEO Richard Simon sold 50 percent of the janitorial company in 2011 but did not disclose the transaction until a year later — after winning the O’Hare contract. Bidders for city business are required to provide city officials with current ownership information.

Watch the full video here!

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Illinois to Allow Undocumented Immigrants to Obtain Driver’s Licenses

On January 8th the Illinois House passed a law allowing all undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. This law states that all undocumented immigrants are now eligible to apply for a Temporary Visitor Driver’s License. The temporary visitor driver’s license will allow undocumented immigrants to drive to the store, bring children to school and various other tasks while in full agreement with Illinois driving laws.

To qualify for a temporary visitor driver’s license you must:

  • Prove you have lived in Illinois for at least one year
  • Provide a valid, unexpired passport or consular ID
  • Provide other proof of identity and residency that the Secretary of State might require
  • Provide documentation that you are not eligible for a Social Security Number
  • Pass all applicable vision, written, and road tests
  • Show proof of insurance for the vehicle you use for the road test
  • Pay a $30 fee

Need help obtaining a temporary driver’s license?

  • Contact the State Department:  800-252-8980
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