Chicago Mayoral challenger Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia joined the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) on Wednesday in demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage for all Chicago Public Schools (CPS) employees, including subcontracted workers.
Garcia and CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey made the call for a "living wage" for CPS employees at a press conference held ahead of the Chicago Board of Education's monthly meeting.
Safe Passage workers, who guard routes students take while traveling to and from school, are among those who would be impacted if CPS lifted its hourly minimum wage to $15 for all employees.
Sharkey said "there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Safe Passage workers" who currently earn less than $15 an hour.
"I stand with CTU today because what they are pressing for is an increase in the living wage," said Garcia, who is endorsed by the teachers' union in Chicago's mayoral race. "It is essential to have more stable families. They are critical providers of front-line services, caring for our children, ensuring greater community stability. I stand with them because it is good for Chicago and for a more promising Chicago for all workers in the city."
Garcia will go up against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the April 7 mayoral runoff election.
CTU's contract with the city is set to expire in June. The union's House of Delegates signed off on contract language, presented to Chicago Board of Education members on Wednesday, that says: "The CTU will require the board to report which employees do not earn at least a $15/hour minimum wage and to then require that all CTU members must earn at least $15/hour and that all CPS subcontractors must earn at least $15/hour and/or that all CPS employees must earn at least $15/hour."
Garcia was asked by reporters whether he is too close to CTU to be in the position of having to negotiate a new contract with the teachers' union, if he's elected.
"Can you represent the taxpayers in this situation," a reporter asked Garcia.
"Yes you can," Garcia responded. "You take all the information that is provided. You take the interests of school children, and you make decisions based on the input of everyone."
When asked similar questions, Sharkey said, "When (Garcia) becomes mayor, I hope he stays close to the people at the bottom of this city. I hope he stays close to the people in neighborhoods. I hope he stays responsible to the people who use the public schools, and he'll make this city great."
In response to CTU's $15 minimum wage proposal for all Chicago public school workers, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement, "I've witnessed the impact that poverty can have on a child's education and this is why the board enthusiastically followed the mayor's lead last year to raise the minimum wage to $13 (an) hour."
The Chicago Board of Education approved a policy last year requiring CPS contractors to pay its employees at least $13 an hour. Additionally, the Chicago City Council approved a mayor-backed ordinance in December that will gradually raise the city's hourly minimum wage from the current $8.25 to $13 by 2019.
Chicago fast food workers with the Fight for 15 campaign and CPS janitors represented by SEIU* Local 1 are backing CTU's demand for a $15 minimum wage for CPS employees.
The Fight for 15 is a national campaign of fast food workers calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage and union recognition. On April 15, the Fight for 15 campaign is holding a national day of action. Sharkey said CTU members will be joining the Chicago-based Fight for 15 protest next month.
"We know that most fast food workers and CPS employees need higher wages," Sharkey said. "We see this especially in the schools, where we know that one of the best predictors of student success in the school building is the economic stability of their parents.
"Too often we see all the responsibilities for raising the next generation of our society subcontracted out to the Chicago Board of Education. Whereas, in fact, we know that parents who cannot get regular hours at their job, cannot make a living wage, have a difficult time providing their children, who are our students, with the kind of environment necessary for real learning," he added.
The union-represented CPS janitors, who work as Aramark Education Services subcontractors, already make just over $15 an hour, according to SEIU Local 1 officials. The janitors were at today's press conference to lend CTU their support and also demand adequate CPS custodial workforce hours and staffing.
CPS privatized janitorial services last year. The Chicago Board of Education in February 2014 approved facilities management contracts with Aramark and SodexoMagic for custodial services and cleaning supplies. Since the custodial services have been privatized, principals and concerned parties have taken issue with the level of cleanliness at schools.
In October, Aramark laid off about 300 CPS janitors and another 200 custodians saw their hours cut from full-time to part-time, according to union officials.
The janitors say part-time custodians need to work more hours in order to keep CPS buildings at an appropriate level of cleanliness.
Aramark "took a lot of staff and went part-time, and that part-time work has now put all the work on these janitors (who are) trying their best to keep up. But, unfortunately, they can't keep up with the demand," said Lonnell Saffold, director of institutional services for SEIU Local 1. CPS did not return Progress Illinois request for comment on whether part-time janitors will be brought back to full-time status.
Here's more from Saffold, Garcia and Sharkey:
Contract negotiations are currently underway for 12,000 Chicago-area institutional and commercial service janitors represented by SEIU Local 1. The current contract for the janitors, including 1,400 who work at CPS, is set to expire on April 5. Click through for Progress Illinois' recent coverage on the janitorial contract.
*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.