Students rally for labor


More than 50 people crowded the corner outside the Friend Family Health Center (FFHC) last Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. A handful of students joined union members of Teamsters Local 743 to demand a new contract and pay raises for clerical staff. Camera shutters snapped, flip-flops slapped the sidewalk, and cars and city buses honked as they passed, adding to the cacophony that filled the air. "What do we want?" shouted the group. "A contract!"

Although FFHC is only blocks from the U of C Medical Center, it has its own board, according to John Easton, the Medical Center's director of media relations. "Our pediatricians see clients there," Easton said, "but the University has nothing to do with the management."

Despite FFHC's independence from the University, some students feel connected to the situation. “The issue,” explained Robin Peterson, '11, a member of Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL), “started two years ago when the contract expired.” Negotiations for a new employment contract between FFHC and the 11 Teamsters who work there have stalled, she said, over points of contention including merit-based raises and relations between supervisors and their subordinates.

Peterson has been involved with SOUL since last September. A writer for the student-run Chicago Weekly, she covered the workers at FFHC for the paper. Activism and journalism are compatible, believes Peterson, who became dedicated to the FFHC issue while reporting her article.

The workers and students marched in a mock picket line to the front of the building and then back to the corner, where speakers included Richard Berg, president of Local 743; members of the organization Interfaith Worker Justice; and former alderman Leon Despres, AB’27, JD’29, in a wheelchair and shiny black 743 hat. Despres, 100, raised the bullhorn with hands trembling from its weight. “I want to tell you a brief story," he said, "from ancient times."

The story, from the Old Testament, described a tree branch that was weak by itself but strong with six other branches. “My wish for you,” he said, “is that you be so strong that you cannot be broken.”

A week after the rally, Friend Family CEO Wayne Moyer told the Hyde Park Herald that FFHC will continue contract negotiations through a federal mediator.

Shira Tevah, '09

Photos: Students, workers, and community members rally at FFHC; former alderman Leon Despres, AB’27, JD’29, applauds their efforts.

July 11, 2008