Cathleen Jensen: Fighting for What’s Right at UIC


Ever since I can remember, I have been committed to the fight for economic and social justice. I grew up in a home where both of my parents were city workers. Since childhood, the value of unions was ingrained in me. I saw it in the peace of mind job stability, safe working conditions, fair wages and secure pensions brought to my parents. My father, a firefighter, and mother, a public school secretary, taught me about the duty of service and gave me the understanding that all should do their part to make the workplace – and the world – better.

To me, all work has value and workers deserve to be treated with equal dignity. When people in positions of power think only of pleasing the people above them, enriching themselves, and moving up but don’t use their positions as positions of advocacy for the people who report to them, to me that’s not just unfortunate, it’s immoral.

Unionization is the only structure that allows workers to advocate for themselves. It forces accountability where it might otherwise be lacking. It levels the playing field between workers and managers. It reduces the chance of managers corrupting their positions with favoritism or discrimination.

I often hear people say they work hard and deserve whatever frivolous luxury they are talking about. Working hard and making money generally have little to do with one another. Our system is upside down when we have the people doing the hardest work and sometimes the most dangerous work, being paid the least and the people who are being paid the most doing the least work.

I’ve spent the past 20 years as an Occupational Therapist at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Occupational Therapists are trained to analyze tasks, break them down into doable steps, and discover how to efficiently achieve goals. OT core skills of goal-setting, problem solving, and decision-making also match perfectly with my role in organizing UIC members in the fight for justice. As a newly elected Vice President of SEIU Local 73, I have been working nonstop to empower our membership to assert their rights as workers in order to gain the respect they deserve.

As we enter negotiations with the goal of receiving contracts for the 4,000 SEIU Local 73 members at UIC, I’m excited to continue fighting for the right to a safe workplace, support, and respect.

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