Monday, January 09, 2006

Child-care coup only a baby step for labor

Child-care coup only a baby step for labor

By Stephen Franklin
Tribune staff reporter
Published January 7, 2006

While the two children napped, Sandra Koen, who has seen her share of tough times, happily added up some recent good news.

She will be getting a $2-a-day pay hike come spring with health-care coverage down the road. She now has a union to lean on. And with the union's guidance, she is sure she will get a state child-care license, which will mean more money.

"Everything is just so much better," she said with a broad smile in the living room of her small South Side apartment, where she runs her tiny child-care center, earning just $9.48 per day per child. "If you are without a union, you are just on your own."

In contrast with organized labor's many broken dreams in 2005, there are breakthrough victories such as the one that helped boost the earnings potential of workers like Sandra Koen.

Her union--the Service Employees International Union--won a precedent-setting contract with the state for 49,000 child-care workers, marking the first such agreement in the nation, and the largest single organizing drive in decades in Illinois.

Like Koen, many of the child-care workers are women, African-American, and folks who have scraped by for years on miserably low wages or on welfare.

It remains to be seen whether labor can make similar strides in 2006, though there are stirrings that did not exist before. More than ever, however, there is a foreboding that labor's time may soon run out if it doesn't get back on its feet.

Indeed, labor's laments only grew in 2005.


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