Illinois - As companies like Starbucks and Amazon continue their efforts to stop employees from unionizing, voters in Illinois passed a historic measure to safeguard the right to organize in Tuesday’s midterm elections. The Workers’ Rights Amendment (WRA) would enshrine in the Illinois state constitution “the fundamental right [of workers] to organize and to bargain collectively … for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work.” The amendment also prohibits the state from passing any legislation in the future that interferes with, negates, or diminishes those rights — ensuring Illinois will never enact an anti-union “right-to-work” law like several of its neighboring states have done in recent years, including Wisconsin, Indiana and Kentucky.
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.
Chicago, Illinois - On the first weekend of October, Wobblies from across North America converged on the grounds of a Marriott hotel in suburban Chicago. The plan for the two-day summit came in the form of several workshops solicited by North America IWW’s Organizing Department Board and suggested by attendees. A total of fourteen Wobblies presented on topics ranging from nonprofits, to tipping, to interviewing IWW members about their organizing. The first workshop I attended was a “Grievance Sort and March on the Boss,” facilitated by Jenni and Louisa of the Organizer Training Committee. We were assigned to small groups of four or five and given a range of grievances, from the mundane (“I don’t like the music that plays at work”) to the potentially life-altering (“my boss makes us work faster and faster regardless of safety”).
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.
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.
I am standing atop a 100-foot-high temple mound, the largest known earthwork in the Americas built by prehistoric peoples. The temperatures, in the high 80s, along with the oppressive humidity, have emptied the park of all but a handful of visitors. My shirt is matted with sweat. I look out from the structure—known as Monks Mound — at the flatlands below, with smaller mounds dotting the distance. These earthen mounds, built at a confluence of the Illinois, Mississippi and Missouri rivers, are all that remain of one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements north of Mexico, occupied from around 800 to 1,400 AD by perhaps as many as 20,000 people.
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.
Chicago, Illinois - On Friday morning, August 5th, we threw a party for our neighbors and community outside of a yellow slat-board 4-bedroom on a quiet residential block. An anticipatory buzz was in the air as about 35 people: radicals from homeless encampments, anarchist affinity groups, Maoist pre-party formations, organizations like Chicago Union of the Homeless and the Young Lords, as well as sympathetic neighbors – milled about playing music, painting cardboard signs, fussing over the food distro table, and dropping banners from second-story windows. The occasion? The re-occupation of our home after an illegal lockout the week prior. This celebration was the culmination of a week of agitation against the property management company, scheduled for the very hour they’d announced their intent to change the locks once and for all.
Illinois - The first time I visited Ronnie Kitchen on death row at Pontiac Correctional Center, I drove down with his mother, Louva Grace Bell. Ronnie was one of the cofounders of the Death Row Ten, a group of Black men, all of whom had been tortured by former Chicago Police Department Commander Jon Burge and white detectives under his command, and all of whom had been convicted and sentenced to death on the basis of tortured confessions. When they came together in 1998, the Death Row Ten enlisted the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) to be their voice on the outside and together forged a visible grassroots campaign that interrupted Illinois’s death machine and led to the exoneration or release of six of their members.
A series of victories was won in the past month by the movement to free survivors of torture and wrongful conviction at the hands of Chicago Police Department. Clayborn Smith, Marcellous Pittman, Juan Hernandez, Rosendo Hernandez, Arthur Almendarez, John Galvan, Eruby Abrego, Jeremiah Cain, David Gecht and David Colon have all had historic judgments in their cases. In the case of Clayborn Smith, a decision by the Illinois Appellate Court authored by Justice Cynthia Cobbs reversed the decision of Circuit Court Judge Alfredo Maldonado, finding that Detectives Kenneth Boudreau, John Halloran and James O’Brien had tortured Clayborn Smith into his confession. They granted him a new trial. In turn, Judge Maldonado found, in the case of Marcellous Pittman, that his tortured confession at the hands of Halloran and O’Brien was inadmissible. Marcellous Pittman also had the charges against him dropped by the state's attorney's office. Within the written decisions by each of these judges, it was laid out plainly that these detectives with a history of torture are not credible and should not be called as witnesses.
Chicago, Illinois - As of Jan. 1, 2022, a new ordinance took effect in Chicago aimed at bringing much-needed accountability to an industry that has been, by and large, treated as part of the informal economy: domestic work. Domestic work covers a range of jobs, from nannies and home-caregivers to home cleaners, but domestic workers themselves—the majority of whom are people of color and the vast majority of whom are women—are not protected by most labor laws and are frequently subjected to rampant wage theft and harassment. The Chicago ordinance requires employers to provide workers, regardless of their immigration status, with written contracts codifying mutually agreed terms of employment, including wages, work schedule, and scope of responsibilities.
Chicago, Illinois - UPS workers represented by Teamsters Local 705 are fired up after Anthony Taylor, a union steward, was terminated this week without just cause. More than 40 drivers and loaders gathered in front of the building entrance at 1400 S Jefferson Street before their shift began on the morning of June 23. The context for the firing and the rally is the beginning of negotiations in August for the contract which expires July 31, 2023. After being sold out by the Hoffa leadership in 2018, followed by a victory with the election of a new Teamsters leadership, members are bent on making gains. After his fellow steward was terminated, Steward Sean Orr spoke out against the company’s forced excessive overtime, ignoring workers’ contractual rights to reduce overtime, as well as more senior drivers being denied the routes they choose.
Chicago, Illinois - On June 2, 250 students at Little Village Lawndale High School (LVLHS) in Chicago walked out of school to demand “Police out!” They marched through Little Village, which is the largest Latino neighborhood in Chicago, to the North Lawndale neighborhood, which is a Black community. The protest was organized by the LVLHS FightBack student group, which called for “Black and Brown Unity.” Other demands raised by the students included equitable funding for all four schools. They explained there are four separate schools within one building. The school which has a predominantly Black student body receives less funding per student than the other three. They also want an end to punitive policies on students. They explained that they want outreach workers and community violence prevention specialists in their schools.
Chicago, Illinois - As Starbucks Workers United racks up victory after victory in union elections across the country, workers at Intelligentsia Coffee — a small, specialty coffee company based in Chicago — are also aiming to improve their pay and working conditions by unionizing. Last week, dozens of workers at Intelligentsia’s five Chicago cafes and roasting works center filed for a union representation election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). They are seeking to organize with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1220, a union they’ve been in contact with since November. Intelligentsia also has cafes in Los Angeles, Boston, New York and Austin, Texas. So far, the union effort is limited to Chicago.