Old Town School Of Folk Music Teachers Announce Plans To Unionize

Lisa Fielding
December 11, 2018 - 2:33 pm

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- At a rally filled with music and celebration, teachers at the Old Town School of Folk Music announced Tuesday that they have filed to form a union.

"In 1957, a small group of people said yes to the idea that a school that taught folk music could be successful in the city of Chicago. In 2017, at that same school, a small group of teachers wondered if organizing themselves would be the best way to help the school and the teachers move forward toward the next 60 years, they said yes," said Chris Walz, teacher, Old Town School of Folk Music.

The teachers began their organizing drive in November 2017 with support from a local workers’ rights group, Arise Chicago. The Old Town Teachers Organization, OTTO, decided the best way to address issues at the school was through union representation with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which also includes K-12 and higher education members in the Chicago area and throughout the state.

"We are passionate about the work we do and the historical institution we are proud to be a part of," said Lindsay Weinberg, teacher, 13 years.

"It is because of our commitment to the mission of this school, that we believe the best way forward is for the faculty to form a union with the Illinois Federation of Teachers." 

Weinberg said unionizing is about much more than wages and benefits.

"This isn't just about getting a raise. This is about teachers being included in the future of this organization and sending it to the best possible place it can get to," she said.

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Alderman Ameya Pewar, 47th Ward, urged school leaders to work with the teachers for a better future.

"I am asking leadership to sit down with their incredible staff and their employees and recognize the union today and work together to build a future together," he said.

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"I wish to see this school continue for me and future generations of loyal supporters and students," said Anita Nothdurft, student. "The teachers work hard teaching and arranging music and providing multiple learning and growing experiences for their students. This place means the world to me and it has enriched my life and my family's and friends." 

"Together as a collective group, we will ensure that our knowledge, talents and voices are valued and incorporated by an administration we can partner with in order for us to do the important work we all believe in. Especially because our decision to unionize aligns with the culture and history of the American Folk Music tradition, we are asking the administration to voluntarily recognize our union," Weinberg said.

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"Anybody who knows Chicago, knows that the Old Town School of Folk Music is one of the greatest cultural institutions in what I think is the greatest city in America," said Dan Montgomery, President, Illinois Federation of Teachers. "When it was started and Win Strake, and Studs, Pete Seger, and Frank Hamilton, they were labor organizers. One of the first things they did was go around this state and this country and sing for the rights of the working people.  There is no greater place to form a union than the Old Town School of Folk Music. We sing and we stand proudly with you today." 

The teachers have requested voluntary recognition of the union from school administration. If the school declines, an election will take place in the coming weeks.

A Old Town School spokesman said in a statement that the school received the petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board and is in the process of reviewing it.