Jewish Federation Workers and Community Leaders Come Together to Demand a Fair Contract


Jewish Federation of Chicago workers rallied near the offices of Jewish United Fund as part of their fight for a fair contract. They were joined by 33rd Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, and Cook County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson.

For months, the union workers have negotiated with Jewish Federation of Chicago management, but have yet to reach a deal they feel is fair. While the two sides have made important movements on several important details, they are far apart on core issues of pay, staffing and the right to organize freely.

“It is my opinion that our management knows we are so emotionally tied up in what we do, and they take advantage of it,” said Lauren Levensaler, Assistant Teacher at the Bernard Horwich JCC Preschool. “It’s expected that we show up to work driven by our maternal instinct and natural desire to care for children. That it would take a heartless woman to prioritize money over the kids. But my landlord doesn’t care that my students just learned about symmetry and snowflakes, for which I am so proud of them.”

Workers state that they provide critical services to the communities they serve, including special education, giving care and support for those who struggle to find housing, counseling services for at-risk youth, and more. However, despite their efforts, many of them are faced with chronic short-staffing exacerbated by comparatively low pay for their roles, which makes it difficult for the Jewish Federation of Chicago to hire more people.

“In my program, we’ve seen turnover skyrocket over the past three years, meaning we have half as many clinicians as we did then,” said Lili Gecker, Clinician II at JCFS Response for Teens and Chief Steward. “Our clients, many of whom are on Medicaid or are under-insured, don’t really have anywhere else to go, yet they’re stuck on a waitlist for up to six months.”

Community leaders who joined the SEIU Local 73 members believe the Jewish Federation of Chicago has a responsibility to treat its workers, who have gone above-and-beyond despite the conditions, with dignity and respect.

“Way too often, nonprofit organizations mistreat their workers,” said Rodriguez-Sanchez. “We have a crisis of care in our city, and we need to people to care for our communities. Yet, they are not being paid the adequate wages they deserve.”

Sigcho-Lopez echoed the statement: “These are the workers who provide critical safety nets for our community. We believe unequivocally in the rights of unions so that these workers have adequate staffing […] and strongly oppose any situation where these workers cannot make ends-meet.”