Stand with Labor, Stand with CTU
Updated: Oct 2, 2019
Renee Facchini, 2019–2020 Social Work Policy Intern, NASW-Illinois Chapter
This last week, 94 percent of Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) educators, a body of over 25,000 teachers, clinicians, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (PSRPs), nurses, and librarians, voted to strike. Additionally, 7,000 members of the Service Employees Union International (SEIU) Local 73 voted to strike, rendering the Chicago Park District, the go-to facility for many students during CTU strikes, unusable. The stakes of this strike are high: for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students, educators in CTU, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and even for social workers—particularly those of us looking ahead to joining the workforce.
CPS is the third largest school district in the nation, serving about 400,000 students in the urban Chicago area. Since July 2018, mayors Emanuel and Lightfoot have promised substantially more clinicians for children and educators. While these two mayors haven’t seen eye to eye, this is an issue they have both agreed upon and failed to fulfill.
The NASW’s recommended school social worker to student ratio is set at one school social worker to every 250 students; it is further recommended that districts experiencing disproportionately high levels of trauma staff at 1:50. This latter figure is appropriate for students in cities like Chicago where violence is commonplace in many neighborhoods. In spring of 2019, however, the ratio of clinicians to students was 1:877. So why is CPS’ ratio over three times the standard suggestion and over twelve times that for high-trauma districts?
While the city of Chicago has failed to fulfill their promises for over a year, the children of CPS have continued suffering the gravest of consequences as already understaffed educators have worked exhaustively to fill these gaps in care. With last week’s CTU vote to strike, educators have made a commitment: this gap in care can continue no longer in their community, and they’re going to fight to close it.
In voting to strike, Chicago educators have made clear that they cannot and will not continue working with students subject to these conditions. They’re standing up not only for themselves, but for every stakeholder in the district. To be frank, this is something on which we as social workers should take note. While commonplace for social workers to exhaustively advocate one-on-one to our clients, we are far less exhaustive in advocating on a structural level for our communities. Additionally, we are far less likely to advocate for ourselves.
For those of us who complain of poor reimbursement, or those who go home daily with heavy hearts over the clearly structural injustices weighing our clients, stand with CTU. These educators have gone home everyday understanding the structural injustices against their students, families, and themselves. This strike is their statement—enough is enough.
CTU educators need our support as they strike. Standing united with CTU in solidarity and action is a stand not only for our employment upon graduation, but a grand show of advocacy for the principles of our profession. It proves the need for the communities who need us, most especially the children of CPS. Further, it’s great practice as we move into a field of such beautiful selflessness, we forget there is benefit to some selfishness.
Renee Facchini is a second year, macro-level master's of social work student at Loyola University Chicago.