I have been with Chicago Public Schools for 22 years and with Local 73 the last 12 years. I was inspired to work in a classroom when I was 14 years old and I took my baby sister to Head Start. She was one of the founding classes of the Head Start program in our neighborhood. I went into that classroom and thought “Oh wow! We never had this when I was little.” I fell in love with that setting.
Six years ago I had a really bad accident away from the school. From reading my contract, I knew that after 90 days my position could be at risk but it all depended on my principal. I called into the union to get more information and I had a really long talk with my union representative and we made a connection. I took a lot of notes and I would contact him every time I had to get an extension on my FMLA. He helped me keep my job. We built a strong relationship and when it was time for me to go back to work, we talked and I said “I need to see you in person. I need shake your hand and I need to hug you.” After that he kept in touch with me and asked me to be a liaison for the union and the rest of the people at my school. That same summer he invited myself and another coworker to a conference to initiate stewards called IGNITE. I attended the workshops, spent the weekend downtown learning a lot of new information, and that was it. The fire was lit, I was ignited, and I’ve been a union steward ever since.
If it weren’t for the information my representative shared with me, I don’t know where I would be. I stay engaged with the union because I know I need to share information with other member leaders and continue to grow and develop the SEIU leadership program. When I engage other members I collect ideas from them and I share ideas with them. You just find out so much information about what’s really going on in the workplace and you get an opportunity to give them information to make their workplace better. A lot of people don’t know how to improve their workplace because they don’t read it for themselves or because nobody told them so that’s why I choose to continue to engage members. Our last leadership conference I was so happy to see that in the past six months of reaching out to other members, I saw four members I had made personal connections with. One of them came up to me and said “I’m here because of you.”
Upon learning about what Janus vs AFSCME could really mean for workers and hearing personal stories from workers in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, who are living under similar so called “Right to Work” laws, it touched my heart. I know that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus it will affect not just Illinois but the entire country. When you have that type of information and you just sit on your butt and don’t tell other people then you are doing those people a disservice. There are many people that don’t know and we need to get this information to those people. I talked to one lady at a school and I said, “Do you remember when your mother or grandmother did not have the benefits you have now? Don’t you want everything you have worked for in the past 28 years? Everything is on the line with this court case. Why not protect yourself now?”