Special Education Classroom Assistant and SEIU Local 73 member Evelyn Davis-West knows Chicago Public Schools well. She works full time at William Bishop Owen elementary school on Chicago’s south side, she went through the school system herself in the 70s and 80s, and she has two children of her own in Chicago schools.
She also knows all too well the stress of being stretched all too thin. Financially, she makes $34,000 a year, below the $35,650 the Department of Housing and Urban Development defines as “very low income” for a two-person household in Cook County, according to this USA Today article. ($57,050 is defined as “low income.”)
Professionally, Evelyn feels like a rubber band stretched to its breaking point, continually being pulled from one assignment to the next, many outside her main focus which is to provide one-on-one attention to students with special needs. One minute she’s in the classroom assisting, the next monitoring students at lunch and recess, the next filling in as a security officer, the next keeping children orderly and safe as they board buses.
Even when she’s in the classroom where she’s most comfortable, having been a teacher for years before leaving at age 32 to have her two kids, she’s stretched thin—often working with more than one student despite the mandate to work one-on-one with a single child with special needs (and often in a crowded classroom of about 30 kindergarteners).
Despite a bachelor’s degree and many years of experience, she isn’t respected, in any respect.
Speaking especially of the children with special needs, Evelyn says, “They need us to hold their hands, to make them feel safe. But we have to be in our right minds, and we can’t be in our right minds on this Ramen noodle budget they’ve got us on.”
“Let’s be realistic, the cost of living in Chicago is very high,” she is quoted as saying in the USA Today article. “Right now, keeping it real, I can buy a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter."
She and 7,500 other SEIU Local 73 members who work at Chicago Public Schools, such as custodians, security officers and bus aides, are all currently on strike with the city’s 25,000 teachers—standing united for good union jobs for everyone in Chicago and fighting hard for the great schools Chicago’s children deserve.
This strike is just the latest example of working people of different races and from different places joining together to take action for higher wages and the good jobs our communities need. Because Evelyn and her co-workers are united in SEIU Local 73, they have the power to strike for better pay and better jobs. We need to re-write the rules so that every worker across Chicago and across the nation can have a voice on the job and the opportunity to negotiate for fair pay, better benefits and safer workplaces.