Chicago Park District Workers Testify About Working Conditions, Low Wages

CPKD Board Meeting

Chicago Park District workers testified before the Board of Commissioners meeting on Jan. 24. about the impact of low wages and working conditions on recruitment and retention of staff.

“Over the past few years, landscapers like me have taken the task of extra roles in the Park District, but we are understaffed and underpaid. Many of us live paycheck-to-paycheck because we are underpaid,” said Shirley Franklin, Park Landscaper for 24 years. “We deserve to be respected for the hard work we do. We even worked during the pandemic without hazard pay. We deserve a raise and longevity pay that will reward the experience and years of service that many of us have put in. We provide for our families and we deserve a fair contract. Without us there would not be Chicago parks. We are the parks.”

Lillian Gaytan Mejia, Hourly Natatorium Instructor at West Pullman Park Pool, spoke about the impact low wages have on staffing. “Due to low pay, we have failed to pull our teens to get on board. Instructors often see our teens take their hard-earned certifications outside of aquatics in the Park District or even the city, for that matter, for better pay. I’ve learned that some of those teens will not return for a 3rd summer this year due to being overworked and witnessing traumatic experiences on duty that resulted in panic attacks. One guard told me he was resigning after working only one weekend because he did not feel it was safe nor good for his mental health. Is our current pay and benefits really how much the important work we provide our patrons is worth? We need a fair contract now so we can live and work in dignity.”

“I am speaking up for the rec leaders that like the job they do, but have had to quit because of the low pay and found a better paying job elsewhere in order to provide for their family because minimum wage just isn’t enough! We need fair pay and a fair contract now and we need management to work with us to ensure our parks are fully staffed, safe, and clean,” said Alejandra Jacobo, Recreation Leader at Davis Square Park.

“I can truly say I love my job, but throughout my years of service, I have seen staffing issues that impact our ability to provide the programs that Chicagoans rely on. As Park Supervisor, I often have to step in and fill in for park classes, which is outside of my normal responsibilities. The reality is that $16.24 is not enough pay for Rec Leaders. My union, SEIU Local 73, has been fighting for fully-staffed, safe, clean parks with quality jobs that include a $20/hr starting minimum wage. This will help recruit talented staff to these positions who want to serve the public and spend their careers in the Park District. Quality in the parks starts with our Rec Leaders, and beginning to address the staffing issues in the parks begins with a fair contract now,” said Melissa Ruiz, Park Supervisor at Shedd Park.

Contract bargaining has lasted more than seven months as workers fight for fully staffed, safe, clean parks with quality jobs to include:

  • Competitive pay increases for all titles including longevity pay 
  • $20/hour minimum wage
  • More monthly positions 
  • Expanded health insurance access
  • A fair and transparent promotions process