Teachers at Old Town School of Folk Music win historic union vote

by Beth Camplain | Jan 16, 2019
Overwhelming majority of teaching artists elect to join Illinois Federation of Teachers
CHICAGO – At a celebration this evening, teachers from the Old Town School of Folk Music announced that votes have been tallied and an overwhelming majority have elected to form a union, joining the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
“We are thrilled! Today the teachers of the Old Town School of Folk Music have honored the institution’s rich history by voting to form a union with the Illinois Federation of Teachers,” said Lindsay Weinberg, an Old Town School teacher of piano, guitar, and voice for thirteen years. “We’ve known all along that the Old Town School teachers form a strong and passionate community, but it’s so exciting to see that truth in action through this vote to unite so we can strengthen the school as one collective body. Our group came together fueled by a desire to do what's right, to support our organization's rich community, and to preserve its soul. It is because of our commitment to the OTSFM mission and the culture and history of the American folk music tradition that we are taking this step.”

“Sixty years after the school’s founding, a small group of teachers wondered if organizing themselves would be the best way to help that school and the teachers move forward towards the next sixty years,” said Chris Walz, who has taught guitar, banjo, and mandolin for twenty-two years. “Tonight’s union vote makes it official. I am so encouraged by the number of true believers in the teaching staff who voted for our union in order not only to benefit themselves and their working conditions, but the overall health and future of the Old Town School of Folk Music. We look forward to working together with the administration toward our shared, positive future.”

Old Town school guitar and ensemble teacher for over a decade, John Mead was similarly excited. “It's a thrill to realize how much we've accomplished and to know that organizing and working collectively is still a powerful political tool. I look forward to the work we'll do as we continue to strengthen our community through an officially sanctioned union.”
Dance teacher for 18 ½ years at the Old Town School Lyn Cole echoed looking toward a bright future, noting her students’ support for the organizing effort. “My students and I are ecstatic at the possibilities that our union will bring.”

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

“Forming a union is the DNA of the school and will help secure its future,” said Rev. C.J. Hawking, Executive Director of Arise Chicago.

“Old Town School of Folk Music is one of the greatest cultural institutions in one of the greatest cities in America,” said Dan Montgomery, President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and a high school English teacher. “When it started, Studs Terkel, Pete Seeger and others were labor organizers, traveling the country, singing for the rights of working people. There’s no better place to form a union than here and now. On behalf of the 100,000 members of the IFT, we proudly welcome them to our union and look forward to many years fighting and singing together for the future we all deserve.”