Request voluntary recognition from administration, will be members of IFT
Shelly Ruzicka (773) 251-5003
CHICAGO – At a rally filled with music and celebration, teachers from the Old Town School of Folk Music announced today that an overwhelming majority of faculty have signed cards to form a union with the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) and have a greater voice to address issues in their workplace. Immediately prior to the event, the teachers – who formed the Old Town Teachers Organization (OTTO) - requested voluntary recognition of the union from School administration. If the School declines, an election will take place in the coming weeks.
The teachers began their organizing drive in November 2017 with support from local workers’ rights group Arise Chicago. OTTO decided the best way to address issues at the school was through union representation with the IFT, which also includes K-12 and higher education members in the Chicago area and throughout the state.
“We are passionate about the work we do and proud to be a part of this historic institution,” said Lindsay Weinberg, an Old Town School teacher of piano, guitar, and voice of thirteen years. “Our group came together fueled by a strong desire to do what's right, to support our organization's rich community, and to preserve its soul. It is because of our commitment to the Old Town mission that we believe the best way forward is to form a union with the Illinois Federation of Teachers. An overwhelming majority of teachers have signed union cards, and we have filed our petition with the National Labor Relations Board. As a collective group, we will ensure that our knowledge, talents, and voices are valued by the administration. And especially because our decision to unionize aligns with the culture and history of the American folk music tradition, we are asking the administration to voluntarily recognize our union. This is a huge and historic moment for our school, and I daresay that Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger would be proud.”
“Sixty years after the school’s founding, a small group of teachers wondered if organizing themselves would be the best way to help that school and the teachers move forward towards the next sixty years,” said Chris Walz, who has taught guitar, banjo, and mandolin for twenty-two years. “As the administration became aware of our work, we hoped to be viewed as equal stakeholders in the positive future of the school, but instead, we were viewed as at-will employees with no real power. That’s when we decided to align with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, who could help us set up a union within the Old Town School, built and run by the teachers who work there.”
“Arise Chicago has had the honor of working with OTTO for one year,” said Rev. C.J. Hawking, Executive Director of Arise Chicago. “Everything they do, including unionizing, is to serve the mission of the School and their students. Forming a union is the DNA of the School and will help secure its future.”
“Our schools have long struggled for enough funding to provide the arts education our students deserve. How lucky we are in Chicago then, to have an iconic cultural institution like the Old Town School of Folk Music,” said Dan Montgomery, President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and a high school English teacher. “The teachers at Old Town provide a community like none other. Their work has dignity, and they deserve a voice that reaches beyond the stage. On behalf of the 100,000 members of the IFT, we are inspired by their effort to organize and proudly welcome them to our union. Studs Terkel would be mighty proud.”
OTTO was joined today by students, community members, and supporters of their work.
*Old Town School teachers are available for interview
Additional photos available upon request
Chicago Office Of Labor Standards Passes Workforce Committee
Workers Clear Final Hurdle before full Council VoteRead more
Arise organizers observed a disturbing trend in long-term negative impacts on workers and their families after a worker was injured on the job. In addition to living with long-term or permanent pain, members shared other physical and mental health issues, as well as financial difficulties, and strain on family relationships.
Due to the holiday on Friday, July 4th the city will be altering the garbage pick-up schedule for the week. The Department of
Ward Night has been cancelled tonight, 5/19. I apologize for any inconvenience.
- Within the first days of the new administration President Trump, through executive orders and reckless rhetoric, has initiated unprecedented and cruel attacks on immigrants and refugees;
- Some employers already feel emboldened by the new administration to further unleash unlawful and immoral attacks on immigrant workers;
- Women workers have become increasingly vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace;
- 26 states have “Right to Work” laws in place with additional states poised to follow suit;
- The nomination of a new labor secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor appears to signal the imminent weakening or dismantling of the Department, including the NLRB, OSHA, and EEOC protections, and the emboldening of similar moves by state legislatures, signaling a renewed and intensified war on working people;
- Our Muslim brothers and sisters have been targeted by the new administration, emboldening hate crimes against them and rumors of a mandatory Muslim registry, all of which greatly impacts Muslim workers, their families and their advocates;
- Our Black sisters and brothers continue to face police brutality and racist enforcement and criminal justice practices and institutions, and inappropriate language and generalized statements from the White House;
- All of the above are a complete contradiction to the spirit and/or the letter of the U.S. Constitution and the basic tenets of all faith traditions.
- Arise Chicago is an organization based in low-wage worker and faith communities, with a membership of individual low-wage workers of color and immigrants, and of congregations from a variety of socio-economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Let it be resolved that Arise Chicago will:
- Educate, protect, and act in support of our individual worker members and congregation members;
- Stand against workplace raids and will deploy all of its resources in support of workers and their families when such raids occur;
- Train immigrant workers on their rights in the workplace, including preparedness for a workplace raid;
- Train women workers on how to avoid, combat, and report sexual harassment in the workplace, and how to create fair and safe workplaces;
- Broaden and deepen its alliance with groups that advocate for the rights of immigrants, Black, and Muslim working people;
- Create Rapid Response Teams to respond to all emergency situations regarding immigrants and Muslim workers;
- Advocate for public policies that offer explicit language regarding protection for immigrant workers and workers of all faith traditions;
- Educate unions, allies, congregations, lawyers, etc. on the lawful protections workers have in the workplace;
- Track and communicate all changes that occur in government that impact immigrant workers, including the Morton Memo that currently protects workers from ICE while in a labor dispute;
- Assist congregations in deepening their understanding of how their faith traditions and Scriptures call on all of us to stand with the oppressed and persecuted.
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Car Wash Owner Files for Bankruptcy to
Avoid Paying $262,901 Owed to Workers
Jorge Mújica, Arise Chicago
Eight former workers from Little Village Carwash were shocked and outraged this morning when they found out that their former employer, Octavio Rodriguez, instead of presenting his case in Cook County Court, decided to file bankruptcy to avoid paying the $262,000 in wages and damages as ordered by the Illinois Department of Labor.
“When I found out the owner filed for bankruptcy, I felt scammed. We know that he owns other businesses, including two restaurants. He has the money” said former “carwashero” Miguel Angel Martinez. “When we filed our claim for owed wages, Octavio told us he’d rather pay a lawyer than give us a penny. But he has the money and the government said he had to pay.”
“We thought the wait for our wages was over after more than three years, and instead find ourselves at the beginning of a new legal battle,” says former Little Village worker Alfredo Ramirez.
“Owner of the former Little Village Car Wash, Octavio Rodriguez owns several houses and buildings, an upscale Mexican restaurantin suburban Summit, and a pizzeria in Chicago. He sold the car wash last year for $1.5 million. He has the money, but simply does not want to pay his former workers,” said Jorge Mújica, an organizer with Arise Chicago, who has supported the workers in their nearly four-year pursuit of justice.
Like other abusive employers, Octavio Rodriguez used loopholes in the law to avoid paying workers their legally owed wages.
“Unfortunately, this is a practice is all too common among employers of low-wage workers”, said Sophia Zaman, Executive Director of Raise the Floor. Cases like Little Village Car Wash have inspired Arise Chicago and seven other Chicago-area worker centers, under the Raise the Floor Alliance umbrella, to introduce HB 1290. This bill would allow workers to place a wage lien on employers to prevent them from moving or selling assets in order to avoid payment of owed wages to workers. Additionally, it would prioritize workers’ claims for wages over the claims of other creditors when employers declare bankruptcy.
The former Little Village Car Wash workers voiced their support for HB1290. Had it been in effect now, they would have the ability to collect the legally owed wages and damages awarded by the Illinois Department of Labor.
Arise Chicago first started supporting the Little Village Car Wash workers in 2011. After training workers on their rights, Arise found that the owner had systematized extreme wage theft. Rather than pay the legally required minimum hourly wage, car wash owner Octavio Rodriguez divided $5 per car washed among all workers in the crew, regardless of the number working. This often meant workers received 50 cents per car, and on slow work days, went home with as little as $20 for an entire 12-hour day of work.
Workers first filed claims with the US Department of Labor in 2011, won their claims, and the owner began paying correctly. However, after six months, Rodriguez went back to his old practices of stealing wages. Trained and supported by Arise Chicago, the workers then filed claims with the Illinois Department of Labor in late 2012. In May 2013 the workers won their claim, with IDOL ruling that they were entitled to back pay and damages, totaling $262,901. Because the owner never paid, the Illinois Attorney General sued him in October of 2014. The workers had a court date for Thursday, May 19, where they expected to hear a ruling from a Cook County Circuit Court judge on payment up to $262,901. Instead, they received news that their former employer was skirting his legal obligation by filing for bankruptcy.
The full Illinois Attorney General lawsuit can be found here.
Photos from Wednesday May 19, 2016 press conference and previous worker actions in 2011 and 2013 are available upon request.
Interviews with workers available upon request.
Clergy Call on Rauner to Negotiate with State Workers
Faith leaders appeal to governor’s ethics, lament suffering of workers and service recipients
Contact: Shelly Ruzicka
CHICAGO–On the 48th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Chicagoland clergy called on Governor Rauner to honor King’s legacy of fighting for economic and racial justice including supporting sanitation workers in Memphis, where he was killed.
Rev. Robert Jones of Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church reflected on the civil rights leader. “Dr. King went to Memphis to advocate that our government be a place where no one is left behind, and that the most vulnerable are cared for with compassion and diligence. We come together today because Dr. King’s message of what government should be continues to resonate here in Illinois.”
AFSCME Council 31 member Stephen Mittons raised concerns for his clients if negotiations do not move forward. “I work for DCFS. We are the parent of last resort for every minor child in the state. What would abused and neglected children do during a government shutdown?”
He also commented on the rarity of the impasse.
“For over 40 years, Illinois state employees have always been able to reach contract settlements without a work stoppage. Despite sometimes difficult negotiations, state government unions have always strongly preferred to avoid the disruption of services that could result from a strike. We are supporting legislation that provides for an alternative to a strike as a means of resolving disputes in contract negotiations.”
Arise Chicago board member, Rev. Liz Muñoz of La Señora de las Américas church appealed to Rauner’s Episcopal faith. “According to internet source Bruce Rauner claims membership in the Episcopal Church. As an Episcopal priest I would like to remind him that in our baptismal covenant we promise to respect the dignity of all human beings. This means we have a responsibility to work for the common good of all people especially the most vulnerable in our communities. At our General Conventions, our national assembly, we have affirmed and resolved to support the right for workers to organize for just wages and decent working conditions. We call on the governor to honor these values and commitments. This is not only for the physical and spiritual well being of the most vulnerable in our society but also for the well being of Governor Rauner’s own soul.”
Rev. Muñoz also shared an open letter to Governor Rauner and the General Assembly, calling for constructive contract negotiations. The letter was signed by 150 faith leaders in Illinois collected by Arise Chicago.
Personal assistant care worker, and Chair of the Executive Board of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Flora Johnson echoed the appeal to Governor Rauner’s morality.
“None of this is about saving taxpayer dollars. And it certainly isn’t about improving the welfare and condition of our vulnerable. This is all about Governor Rauner’s single-minded desire to weaken or exterminate unions outright. The Scripture says that the cries of the Poor reach the heavens. But, as we have seen throughout this nightmare period, they do not reach Bruce Rauner.”
She also voiced concern about those most impacted by the stalled contract negotiations and lack of a state budget. “We are here to commemorate the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King. He understood the direct link between racial justice and economic justice and that is why he died supporting the union movement. It is no coincidence in my mind that the cuts and disruptions being enacted by Governor Rauner fall disproportionately on the heads of women and people of color. This is wrong and we are called by our conscience to stop him.”
Twenty-five year veteran mental health technician and AFSCME member, Roberto Botello said his fellow union members are worried not only about their own families, but the people they serve. “ Every state employee I know wants a peaceful resolution to our current contract negotiations. We want a fair contract for ourselves as workers, and we also want to protect the vital services we provide to our clients.”
Department of Human Services case worker Darneice Cooper reiterated the sentiment of concern for clients. “We care about the people we serve. But what will happen if the governor gets to take out all the safeguards against privatization in our contract? Think about what privatization would mean for the Department of Children and Family Services. How do you put a price on a child’s wellbeing? Why should any big corporation make a profit off of services to troubled families? You cannot truly serve children and at the same time make profits your top priority.”
Rev. Jones called for the kind of government and society that Dr. King envisioned. “We want Illinois to be a place where service providers are not demonized but cherished for the sacrifices they make and respected for the professional services they provide. On this day, let us honor the memory of Dr. King as we claim the urgency for immediate and quantitative change in the lives of Illinois citizens.”
Text of the letter from Illinois religious leaders is included below.
OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR BRUCE RAUNER AND THE ILLINOIS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Our faith traditions provide a moral compass and direction for the current situation in Illinois. First, we are called to care for our individual neighbors, especially the most vulnerable among us. Second, the work we do should strengthen the common good of society. Third, each worker has been created in the image of God and is deserving of dignity.
Therefore, we are alarmed by the recent halt in contract negotiations that: create life-threatening consequences for vulnerable populations; dismantle the serving of the common good; and harm the workers serving Illinois citizens.
By honoring our state workers who provide vital services each day — helping those in need, safeguarding at-risk children, assisting veterans, protecting the environment, responding to natural disasters, and much more – we care for our neighbors and strengthen the common good.
We call upon Gov. Rauner to work constructively through the established bargaining process to reach a resolution, rather than intensifying conflict.
We call upon you all to take steps that would allow a process of mediation and arbitration with the public employee union that is far more effective than confrontation, especially in our battle-weary Illinois.
We call upon you all to take measures that promote a peaceful path forward that will best serve all of the people of Illinois.
Photos available upon request.
Interviews with clergy and workers available upon request.
Walking by Faith, Embodying Solidarity
Through organizing and media outreach, Arise Chicago has proudly been supporting our board member, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, who decided to wear a hijab during Advent, leading up to Christmas. She posted photos of herself wearing a hijab with an explanation of her actions as embodied solidarity with the Muslim community, amidst of the current hate-filled climate. She was subsequently put on administrative leave and relieved of her teaching and programming responsibilities for the Spring 2016 semester by her employer, Wheaton College. In January Dr. Hawkins was notified that the College was beginning termination proceedings to end her tenure and employment.
Dr. Larycia Hawkins has been an Arise Chicago board member since 2011. We are proud that the first tenured African American woman at Wheaton College has faithfully served our board with such commitment and excellence.
Our board and staff are disappointed however, with the workplace injustice she is currently facing. We are dispirited that a woman of courage, who sought to express love, and through her faith reach out to those who are marginalized, is now facing attempts to push her to the margins.
We send a special thanks to the dozens of clergy who attended our press conferences on December 16th and January 6th with Dr. Hawkins.
Messages of support have come to Dr. Hawkins from her students, faculty, alumni, the interfaith community and supporters from across the U.S. and the globe. You can share messages of support on her website.
Hundreds of pieces have been written and recorded on her story, some of which are listed below.
Thank you to our Arise supporters who join their voices with Dr. Hawkins in her message of faith-based love and solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers.
We are proud to call Dr. Hawkins an Arise board member, leader, and sister in struggle.
Find ways to support Dr. Hawkins on her website.
Religious leaders can sign on to an interfaith petition here.
Dr. Hawkins’ story has been covered in hundreds of pieces, including: