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Russell named CFL Woman of the Year

6/09/2015

After more than 40 years, Jane Russell shows no signs of backing down when it comes to fighting for everyday men and women. That’s one reason why the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) named the IFT Vice President and President of IFT Local 571 their Woman of the Year!

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Each year, the CFL recognizes extraordinary women whose work in the labor movement has gone above and beyond. Russell is in impressive company: the CFL awarded longtime IFT/CTU activist Bea Lumpkin with their CFL’s Lifetime Achievement award this year, and Chicago Teachers Union President and IFT Executive Vice President Karen Lewis was their Woman of the Year in 2014. Margaret Blackshere, the first female president of the Illinois AFL-CIO and an IFT member, is also a previous winner.    

“I look at all of the strong union women who have received this award before me and find it hard to believe I am now one of them. I have the opportunity to work in the union because many of them blazed the trail before me,” Russell said during the awards ceremony. “I am so grateful.”

Russell is a trailblazer in her own right, with a union resume dating from 1972, the year she joined IFT Local 571. After more than two decades in leadership roles in 571’s Leyden Council, she was elected local president in 1995. Since then she has helped the local flourish: it has doubled to nearly 5,700 members, established a top-notch professional development program, offers several annual student and member scholarships, and is actively involved in community programs like FirstBook.
As an IFT Vice President since 1998, Russell advocates for all IFT members, not just those in her local. During a recent Illinois Senate committee hearing, she testified against a proposal to restrict public employee collective bargaining rights, telling lawmakers how collective bargaining allowed her and her colleagues to better serve students by negotiating smaller class sizes, professional development for teachers, and an educator voice on the curriculum committee. The measure was soundly defeated.
 
During the CFL awards presentation, Rosetta Daylie of AFSCME said, “Jane has never been afraid to speak up about issues that are important to her, and she is using her various leadership roles to fight for what she believes in.”
 
What she believes in is strong unions and high-quality public education, and she understands they go hand in hand.
“I am a proud union teacher,” she said. “I am not 50 percent teacher and 50 percent union, or any other percentage. I am union and I am a teacher, and they are one in the same,” Russell said.
Now retired after 35 years teaching high school science, Russell is still passionate about education. In 2012, she was named to the Illinois P20 Council, a group established by the Illinois legislature to foster collaboration among education stakeholders. In that role, she helps to educate lawmakers and assess how statewide reforms are impacting students, teachers, and communities.
 
Despite her commitment and accomplishments on behalf of education and workers, she remains humble.

“I don’t see myself as a role model,” Russell said. “But I hope that my efforts show young women and men that our union has a powerful, positive impact on our communities and our professions. By participating in our union, we all have the power to make a difference.”  

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