CHICAGO- Child care workers at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago picketed in protest of poverty wages, understaffing, and disinvestment from vulnerable communities on Wednesday. They were joined by parents, community advocates and political leaders, including Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and State Representative Litesa Wallace.
YMCA early childhood education teacher Tahiti Hamer announced that child care workers at 10 child care sites across Chicago voted Monday to authorize a strike and that workers plan to hold an unfair labor practice strike on March 1st.
“While it is a very hard decision to go on strike, we know that this is the right thing to do in order to guarantee quality care for every child and a good life for every worker at the YMCA,” Hamer said.
The YMCA’s poverty-level wages have resulted not only in economic hardship for child care workers, but also a short-staffing crisis at YMCA-run child care centers that impacts the quality and availability of care for low-income families. There are currently 50 unfilled child care positions at the YMCA due to high turnover and low wages. Despite the staffing crisis, YMCA management called workers’ proposals for living wages “a fantasy”, and only offered 1% raises to nearly half of the bargaining unit. Child care workers and low-income families bear the brunt of the Y’s poverty wages, while YMCA CEO Dick Malone makes $300 per hour.
Workers at the YMCA are supported by parents who are concerned by the impact of understaffing on their children’s care and education. Illinois State Representative Litesa Wallace echoed those concerns, saying, “As a working mother, I know what it’s like to worry about the quality of care for my child. When workers are paid such low wages that there’s a staffing crisis at the center, it affects the education and care the children receive. I’m proud to stand with SEIU Healthcare and call for the YMCA to live up to their commitment to ‘disrupt the cycle of poverty.”
Workers, parents, and advocates also protested the continued disinvestment in vulnerable neighborhoods that reached a head in August when the YMCA closed the South Chicago Y and a Head Start location in Logan Square. “While the YMCA of Chicago talks about ending the cycle of poverty, their actions speak louder than their words. Ending the cycle of poverty means paying their employees a living wage, making sure families get quality care and investing in vulnerable communities,” said Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.