O School counselors join AFSCME

In a positive turn of events—after initially resisting with anti-union tactics like captive audience meetings—management at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School (the “O School”) in Chicago voluntarily recognized AFSCME Council 31 on July 20, just after employees filed for a union election.

The O School is a residential treatment center and therapeutic school for children and adolescents with challenges such as autism or emotional and behavioral disorders. Once their union is certified, these mental health counselors will head to the bargaining table.

“The union will allow counselors and administration to work together to improve overall working conditions,” counselor Loren Sargent said. “The union will improve staff conditions, which will ultimately improve student conditions as well.”

“Our knowledge about and devotion to the residential program, in tandem with the power our union provides, will help keep our residential program and our residents safe and thriving,” agreed Will Bartz.

More than 200 people signed a petition in support of O School employees as they stood together to form their union. Now they have a union but still need support as they begin negotiations. Take a moment to sign the petition.

“We are concerned for our students, our safety and the services we provide as we reopen during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the organizing committee said in a statement. “We still have a long journey ahead as many serious issues at the O School remain unresolved, including recent layoffs, staffing and ongoing safety issues.”

Sign on in support of our newest AFSCME members as they advocate for their students and one other at the bargaining table.

“Our high turnover rates reflect poor working conditions,” said Liv Seidel. “With our union, we can advocate for our children, be part of the decision-making and create a workplace that reflects our true value.”

“We residential employees are essential to the fabric of The Orthogenic School, yet we can’t rise to this challenge when our voices are dismissed and our workplace conditions leave us vulnerable and at-risk,” counselor Dave O’Keeffe said. “I welcome a new day when we residential employees stand together on even ground with management in meeting the challenges of the future.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown in Illinois, hundreds of workers from five different entities across the state have joined AFSCME’s ranks to win a voice on the job. Safe and healthy working conditions has been their number one priority.