Chicago's thousands of graduate workers — increasingly responsible for teaching and research work once performed by faculty — have long been overworked, underpaid, and non-union. This month, that might finally be starting to change. On January 12, nearly 3,000 graduate workers at Northwestern University announced a landslide victory in their union election, winning 93.5% of the vote. This Tuesday, some 3,000 graduate workers at the nearby University of Chicago (UChicago) will also cast ballots, and while UChicago’s election results won’t be tallied until March due to mail-in voting, a majority of workers pledged to vote “yes.” The two universities are the largest employers of graduate workers in Chicago, and union victories at both would reflect a dramatic increase in the area’s academic union density.
Chicago, Illinois - For two years, teachers and staff in my workplace, George Washington High School, helped lead a community campaign to stop a hazardous industrial metal shredder, General Iron, from moving a few blocks from our school. Repeating a historic pattern, city officials facilitated General Iron’s planned move from the wealthy and white Lincoln Park neighborhood where it had operated for decades to the working-class, majority Latino Southeast Side. Our campaign won a major victory when we pressured Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Department of Public Health into denying the final operating permit for General Iron. It took years of mobilizing, street protest, and a month-long hunger strike to force the mayor to do the right thing. The experience of Chicago Teachers Union members in the #StopGeneralIron campaign highlights the power of union members when we stand shoulder to shoulder with environmental justice activists to demand safe living and working conditions.
Chicago, Illinois - 60 people observed the latest meeting of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA), January 26 at Olive Harvey College. The agenda included a proposed policy stopping the Chicago Police Department from creating a new gang database; selecting members for the Non-citizens Advisory Council established by the Empowering Communities for Public Safety ordinance; and setting goals for the Chicago PD, the Police Board, and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. A dozen Police District Council candidates were in attendance. Two, Cherli Montgomery from the 7th District and Eric Russell from the 6th, spoke in the public comments section of the meeting. "This day is historic because someone voted early for District Councils today," Russell exclaimed.
Chicago, Illinois - Recently unionized employees at Howard Brown Health, a nonprofit Chicago health clinic that caters particularly to LGBTQ people, went out on strike Tuesday. Management is also threatening to lay off 15 percent of their workforce, citing “financial concerns.” On December 30, the sixty employees — who had previously been told they would be laid off Tuesday — arrived at work to discover that they had been locked out of their emails and other work software, including at least one therapist who says that they lost access during a call with a patient. The workers were given no advance notice that this would happen, according to the union. A photo of the email from a manager informing the workers of their impending layoff circulated on social media and showed that he didn’t personalize the message, so each email addressed a given employee as “NAME.”
From ‘hood to ‘hood and city to city, we stand the most to gain in uniting, as an oppressed community capable of liberating ourselves from our collective social conditions! Over half a million people are experiencing homelessness here in the US, 580,466, as of January 2020. However, more than 16 million housing units in the United States are vacant. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the same social contradiction exists, where over 800 people are documented as homeless. According to the Pittsburgh Quarterly, however: The city of Pittsburgh has nearly 24,000 vacant properties, including 7,500 vacant houses and buildings, according to a market analysis by the Center for Community Progress, a national land-recycling nonprofit. About 22 percent of the vacant houses and buildings are owned by the city. Pittsburgh ghettos like Homewood, Hazelwood and the ‘Hill are socially situated much like Woodlawn, Englewood and Lawndale, here in Chicago. Vacant lots can be seen, not primarily downtown which is a lucrative tourist attraction; but outcasted from the world of the privileged.
Chicago, Illinois - Isabelle Wright, a resident of protest camp RiseUpTown, puts out a chair for me at the edge of a circle. It’s 10 o’clock on a Friday in September, and people are chatting as their food grills. Occasionally a car pulls up and leaves cases of water, Covid tests or food on a folding table at the front of camp — donations to the over 25 members of this community of houseless people. Many camped together on this stretch of grass next to the roaring DuSable Lake Shore Drive long before they began organizing collectively. When the adjacent Weiss Memorial Hospital parking lot was slated to become luxury apartments, the camp transformed into RiseUpTown. The unhoused residents partnered with local housing justice groups Northside Action for Justice (NA4J), Chicago Union of the Homeless (CUH) and others to protest the role of luxury housing in displacement and homelessness.
When I stepped down as Chicago Teachers Union president earlier this year (the union has a dynamic new officer team led by Stacy Davis Gates), I did it partly because I was ready for a change, partly to make room at the top, and partly because I think we need a reckoning about the direction of the labor movement. Stepping down gives me a chance to write and speak out without the constant and overwhelming work of running a 26,000-person local. This article is the first in what I hope will be a series in which I share some of the insights CTU learned through our struggles. The Chicago Teachers Union gets a lot of attention among the people who make up the fighting wing of the labor movement—for our high-profile strikes over the past decade and our unapologetic, anti-racist critique of what’s wrong with our schools and our society.
Chicago, IL - The first meeting of the Interim Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) took place on the evening of Thursday September 29 at Malcolm X College. The meeting was attended by almost 200 people, most of who were members or supporters of the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) coalition. The CCPSA introduced itself to the community, set up committees to do its work, and elected Anthony Driver and Oswaldo Gomez as its president and vice president. The public comments were filled with support for the CCPSA and demands that the mayor and city council give the Interim Commission the staff and budget necessary to transform the city’s public safety system.
Chicago, Illinois - Leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union were pretty sure they would need to strike the school district in the fall of 2012 to win what students and educators deserved. But they had come into office only two years before, and begun helping members organize themselves from the bottom up. They needed to find out just how willing and able members were to strike. The state legislature had deliberately made it hard for Chicago teachers to walk out. In 2011 it passed a bill requiring CTU to get yes votes from 75 percent of all members (not just of those voting) before calling a strike. This was supposed to be impossible. “In effect they wouldn’t have the ability to strike,” gloated Jonah Edelman of the corporate “reform” group Stand for Children, which pushed for this rule. Edelman’s group had researched past contract votes and found 48 percent was the greatest share of the membership CTU had been able to muster.
Chicago, Illinois - Citing years of broken promises to build affordable homes, a Chicago City Council committee rejected a plan to lease public housing land to a professional soccer team owned by a billionaire ally of Mayor Lori Lightfoot. That was on Tuesday. Less than a day later, allies of the mayor called a do-over and reversed the vote. The full City Council then voted Wednesday to approve a zoning change needed to let the Chicago Fire soccer team build a practice facility on the 26-acre site. A June story by ProPublica detailed how the land was once part of the ABLA Homes, a public housing development on the Near West Side where 3,600 families lived. After demolishing most of the ABLA buildings and displacing thousands of people, the Chicago Housing Authority promised to build more than 2,400 new homes in the area. So far, it has finished fewer than a third of them.
In 2012, I joined thousands of my fellow public school teachers in Chicago and walked off the job. After facing 30 years of corporate education “reform” that demonized teachers and led to massive privatization of public schools across the United States, teachers everywhere were ready to fight back. For many of us in Chicago, ahead of the 2012 strike, political developments had shown a range of possibilities for what that fighting back could look like. We had watched intently as protesters took over plazas in Tahrir Square to demand the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as well as the crowds occupying the Wisconsin statehouse to oppose Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union Act 10.
If you feel like your union needs a jump-start—whether you’re a longtime shop steward or just started your first union job—this book is for you. The impulse you have (“This union could be stronger and better, and I want to help change it”) makes you part of a long tradition—what we at Labor Notes affectionately call the trouble-making wing of the labor movement. One basic principle unites us troublemakers. We believe democracy, meaning broad member participation at every level of the union, is the heart of union power. The Chicago Teachers Union’s 2012 strike didn’t just put the union on the map; it gave a jolt of hope to the whole labor movement.
Chicago, IL - Chicago saw two developments this past week in the struggle for democratic control of the police by the Black and Latino communities in Chicago. First, after a long delay, Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed the interim Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA). This was created out of the passage of historic legislation in 2021, Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS), the most democratic legislation for police accountability in the country. Second, election season began on August 30, when candidates for municipal office can start circulating petitions to get on the ballot in February 2023. The February ballot will include first-in-the-country police district council elections.
Chicago, Illinois - In late July, Lauren Bianchi and Chuck Stark, two teachers at George Washington High School on the Southeast Side of Chicago, were on the verge of losing their jobs. In what Chicago Teachers Union officers suspect was an act of retaliation from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Public Schools recommended that Bianchi and Stark be fired for their involvement in the student-, teacher-, and community-led effort to stop the relocation of the General Iron metal shredder from the wealthy Northside neighborhood of Lincoln Park to a site half a mile from their school. With the union and their community behind them, though, the Chicago Board of Education issued a stunning rejection of Chicago Public Schools officials’ recommendation to fire the two teachers.
Chicago, Illinois- Managers at Intelligentsia Coffee closed their five Chicago stores two hours early July 5 to call its cafe workers to a mandatory meeting. A month earlier, baristas had filed for a union representation election with the National Labor Relations Board, hoping to join International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1220 (IBEW).Management sent anti-union mailers to employees in response, using the slogan, “Be Curious.” Intelligentsia CEO James McLaughlin told workers they had no need for a union because they were treated so well already. Managers refused to answer any of the workers’ questions. “They said they couldn’t take questions because of NLRB rules, that they had to have a script of everything they said so they could submit that to the NLRB if they needed to,” says Intelligentsia barista Jordan Parshall.