Divide and conquer destroying the power of CPS custodial workers as their union retreats after crossing 2012 CTU picket lines... Principals ordered to privatize remaining union custodial workers despite impact of job losses and pay cuts on local communities

Less than two years after their union, Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) thought it had curried favor with the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel by signing a contract a month before the Chicago Teachers Union led the first strike in 25 years, members of the union, which was once the second most powerful in Chicago Public Schools, are facing the loss of what remains of the custodial workers at CPS. In February 2014, Chicago principals were presented with the time line forcing them to push their custodial work into the private corporation ARAMARK -- whether they or their Local School Councils want to do so or not.

The fourth page of the Power Point given to CPS principals in February 2014 shows how CPS will utilize falsification of history and reality to slander the current remaining unionized custodial workers while forcing the schools to contract with a privatized and non-union company, ARAMARK, for the services. The process is spposed to be completed virtually immediately ("Spring Break -- Staffing Changes" above). There has been no public discussion of the edict and most principals have not told their LSCs or communities.In a five-page Power Point given to principals, CPS administration outlined the rhetoric and methodology behind the push. In the first phase, the "unclean" status of many of the schools will be exposed through convenient leaks to selected media, using a formula designed by CPS. The propaganda assault on the custodial workers will leave out the fact that CPS has cut local budgets to the extent that it is virtually impossible for current staffs -- at almost all levels except for central administration -- to do their jobs.

Once the scandal of "unclean" buildings and the dangers to children has become a public talking point thanks to the outreach of CPS and mayoral propaganda offices, the next step will be to demonstrate that privatization and union elimination is both more "efficient" (i.e., it costs less) and "effective" (i.e., it results in cleaner buildings).

The propaganda attack on the remaining union custodial workers will ignore the massive corruption of the privatization of custodial work that began during the 1990s under Paul Vallas (who was "CEO" of CPS until June 2001) and Gery Chico (who was Board president until June 2001). As usual, history will simply be ignored while the superiority of the new system will be loudly proclaimed.

Unfortunately for the custodial workers, their union, SEIU Local 73, has left them naked to their enemies. After Local 73 President Christine Boardman signed a contract with CPS in August 2012 behind the backs of the leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union, many observers felt that it would weaken the CTU's ability to lead a successful strike. Even more troubling to the majority of teachers was that Local 73 members were forced to cross the picket lines established by the CTU and enter the schools as scabs in September 2012.

Cover of the "For Internal Use Only" Power Point being given to CPS principals in advance of the attack on the school system's remaining unionized custodial workers. The title of the Power Point indicates how the campaign to force the privatization on the schools will become a media event, with the talking points already provided. Left out will be the massive cuts in repair and custodial budgets that have resulted in great challenges to keeping buildings clean. The claim that a private company will do better will ignore the history of corruption and incompetence that followed the initial privatization of custodial work under Paul Vallas and Gery Chico during the 1990s.Although then CPS Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard claimed that the schools would be open for the sake of the children during the CTU strike, by the second day of the strike there were few or no children inside the schools, but the scabs who had been ordered into the buildings were there -- and getting paid. Principals told Substance that there were usually more adults in their school buildings than children, as the children and their parents had joined the CTU picket lines outside and the CTU protests downtown every day following the morning picketing.

Local 73 has had no comment on the latest attack on union workers in Chicago's public schools.

The remaining union custodial workers in Chicago's public schools are doubly vulnerable because of the leadership of their union and because of what they did during the 2012 Chicago Teachers Strike. While the strike could have been of all unions representing unionized CPS workers, it was not because of the decision led by Christine Boardman, Local 73 president, to sign a contract with CPS a month before the teachers were to settle. Past strikes in CPS throughout the 1970s and 1980s had included all of the unions representing CPS workers.

One of the historical reasons for the vulnerability of the custodial workers, almost all of whom are minority and many of whom are women (precise information on these facts is not publicly available) is that SEIU has undergone radical changes in both its structure and its international philosophy during the past 15 years. Prior to the beginning of the 21st Century, SEIU Local 46 represented custodial workers and others at CPS and was the second most powerful union in the nation's third largest school system. Local 46 President Jarvis Williams was one of the most powerful and influential leaders in Chicago, evidenced among other things by the fact that he had met personally with Nelson Mandela.

Local 46 was destroyed under a reorganization plan ordered by former SEIU international president Andy Stern ten years ago. Instead of one large local representing the custodians (and a couple of other groups) working for CPS, Local 46 was forced into "Local 73" -- which represents workers ranging from bus drivers in Gary Indiana to toll collectors on the Illinois Tollway. The consolidations into mega locals with diffuse memberships and (as in the case of Local 73) dozens of contracts left each particular group within the union less powerful. Williams was forced out of the leadership of the local and virtually disappeared from public life in Chicago. After brief spurt of organizing against cuts in special education in 2005 and 2006, Local 73 became more and more accommodating to the CPS administrations both under Richard M. Daley and under Rahm Emanual. The last straw was the contract signed by Local 73 in August 2012 that was praised by the mayor and his allies and seen as a way to stop the CTU from striking.

When Local 73 members crossed the union picket lines in September 2012, it caused consternation and sometimes fury from those on strike, but left the Local 73 members more vulnerable than ever. All of them were paid for the seven school days they "worked" during the strike of all the CTU members.


February 24, 2014 at 7:32 PM

By: Ed Hershey


Utter garbage, privatizing this. . .

We're going to have to call downtown for "daytime emergencies", WTF, who thinks that's going to work.

I hope there's a fight over this.

February 25, 2014 at 6:53 PM

By: Kati Gilson NBCT


We have a fantastic engineer and custodial staff at Sumner Elementary. They have our engineer running between two schools which, is ridiculous. Who does the board think showed up and shoveled the snow when it was frigid outside and school was closed? Who runs to the rescue when a kids throws up, a toilet backs up, or, if available provides tp and paper towels. It's not the good fairy that has my preschool room ready for the next day. I may be delegate, but never did I criticize our custodial staff for crossing the picket line. They were set up and I wasn't about to add to that.

February 27, 2014 at 10:48 AM

By: Georgeanna simmons

cps and privatized workers

My comment is we have great custodial workers, I feel that we should of least get a heads up about whats going on with the job situation.what about families being affected.custodial staff should have a say so and also be told ahead of time if there still going to be employed or where there going, they earned the right to be told.

March 12, 2014 at 10:37 PM

By: laurabochonko

union local 73

Where are you guys ????What am i paying dues for ???Help us custodians keep our positions!!!!!!!!!!

March 13, 2014 at 4:13 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Local 73, scabbage, picket lines, and sellout leaderships

As readers know, Substance thanks to Marybeth Foley and others covers every meeting of the Chicago Board of Education every month for years and decades. Tim Cawley's stupid Power Point from the Board of Ed meeting is now available on the Board website for all to see, with the Power Point available for all to read. Cawley actually said -- and emphasized -- that "mop and bucket" technology was obsolete and showed a photograph of what seems to be a dry hump dry land "zamboni" as if that high tech un-reality will do a job that a custodial worker with a mop and bucket can't, won't, or is incapable of doing. The stupidity of that claim was only possible because nobody -- as in NOBODY -- on the Board at that point had ever cleaned a real school with real classrooms in real time. (Carlos Azcoitia is one of the well-heeled hypocrites who mouths about his days "in the trenches" while voting the Rahm Emanuel privatization line every chance he gets; Mahalia Hines was absent that meeting).

I was surprised about several things. One was that Cawley was so cocky as to think he could get away with that technobabble to the public. Cawley spoke as if human beings were no longer needed to clean complex places (like most places, including classrooms and washrooms used by hundreds of children every days.

But then came the big one.

No one -- as in NO ONE -- from the custodial workers union was at the Board meeting to comment on or challenge Cawley's limpid version of reality. Bill Iacullo from the Operating Engineers (the non-privatized ones) spoke about how CPS didn't even consider whether simply returning the supervision of the custodial crew to the engineers -- as had been done for more than a century -- might not be the best solution.



So the Board voted to approve that contract, and hundreds of community people who had been working at real union jobs were once again screwed. And the leadership of Local 73 was once again nowhere to be seen when their members in CPS schools were being destroyed.

Keep us updated on this story. But let's not forget that in August 2012 Christine Boardman signed a contract with Rahm Emanuel -- er., excuse me, with the "Chicago Board of Education" and Jean-Claude Brizard -- that included both a "me, too" clause and a "no strike" agreement. As a result, members of Local 73 got the same raise CPS teachers and other members of CTU Local 1 AFT won on the picket lines during the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012 but had to cross the picket lines to sit inside those schools that Brizard opened "for the sake of the children" and other Emanuel publicity stunts.

As you know, at most schools that we "open" during the strike, there were more adults (being paid) inside the building than there were children getting fed and "schooled" Rahm-style. The leadership of the other unions was not tortured into signing those sellout contracts. And to my knowledge, they have never been publicly held accountable for that bit of SEIU Local 73 scabbage.

March 25, 2014 at 10:55 AM

By: Lisa Juarez

Privatization of custodial workers

Shame on the powers that be......most of these men and women have given numerous years to this thankless and low paying job trying to secure some real- life benefits. Now they get another kick in the teeth and face an uncertain future. What happened to this country and our committment to the pursuit of happiness.

Karma and justice awaits our current self-centered and Godless politicians. Rham....we can't wait to see you get yours!

March 25, 2014 at 9:05 PM

By: Ed Hershey

Custodial Privatization

I've heard that this may be done and over by the end of Spring break!

CTU should make some kind of statement in solidarity with our brother and sister custodians.

March 26, 2014 at 6:06 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Privatization unopposed by unions?

The vicious blitzkrieg to privatize the remaining union custodial workers in Chicago's public schools has to date remained unopposed by the leaders of the unions. As we reported in the report on the February 26 Board meeting, Local 73 SEIU did not speak at all, although it was their members who were going to lose their jobs. Since SEIU had scabbed on the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012, there was less motivation for the teachers union to speak out. The only speaker at the February 26 Board meeting against the privatization presentation -- an almost ludicrous Power Point by Tim Cawley -- was Bill Iacullo of the Operating Engineers (who also scabbed during the 2012 teachers strike). It remains to be seen who will speak out against the privatizations on the March 26 Board agenda.

April 1, 2014 at 2:22 PM

By: Angel Weaver


Well what your article FAILS to bring to light, that this contract with ARAMARK was NOT put out to bid nor was the contract to Soedexdo for $387M this was all done behind CLOSED doors in a "Executive Meeting". My question is why is the News Media NOT covering this???? Why, because they are too afraid of King Rahm & his cronies!!!

April 1, 2014 at 3:36 PM

By: George N..Schmidt

Substance is your media answer...

Whenever someone, in straight faced honesty, asks "Why is the News Media NOT covering this????" I have to answer with a quote from A.J. Liebling, who was the immortal reporter (D-Day; the Liberation of Paris) and media critic for The New Yorker for a long long time. "The press is free to those who own them..." Liebling wrote. Please stop insulting Substance. We have been covering all the news about CPS for more than 36 years and will continue to do so, even though we had to suspend our print edition as more and more of our readers told us they weren't going to pay for a print subscription because "I can read it on line." Both the Tribune and Sun-Times have been on the market more than once during the past decade, so instead of criticizing them we should have bought one, or the other, or both...

April 12, 2014 at 11:08 PM

By: Spike Nard

Scab Custodians and Engineers

George, You unfairly call the custodians and engineers, "scabs." Both unions, including security guards and lunchroom staff too, were threatened with discipline if they did not work during strike days. Arriving before the picket lines were established, was the best of all intentions, not crossing the line. I know you are well informed on all CPS issues and can say you do get it right all of the time but not this time.

August 11, 2014 at 2:36 PM

By: Susan Stellar

privatized custodial services

I worked one year at a charter high school near Detroit MI which had contractual custodial services. The place was filthy and repeated complaints were ineffective--maybe because the principal cared only about his fat behind? I don't know. The nearest girls' bathroom was around the corner from my classroom, which I insisted on using because the teachers' restrooms were long corridors away, and if it wasn't good enough for me it wasn't good enough for the girls. The other teachers refused to use it.

They waxed the corridors once weekly, during school hours, with huge LOUD machines, but didn't enter the classrooms at all--oh yes, once over Christmas vacation.

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