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Being a union member is the most effective way to advocate for yourself, your profession, and those you serve.

If you are a new employee at an Illinois school, college, university, or in some state agencies, you may already be an IFT member! Find out who your building representative or worksite leader is and inquire about whether your colleagues have already organized a union and joined the IFT. (If they have, get involved!)

If you and your colleagues are not organized, there are many important reasons you should consider joining the IFT family.

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To begin the organizing process, contact IFT Director of Collective Bargaining Kathy Shaevel.


In Illinois, there are three boards that administer the labor laws related to organizing new unions, conducting elections, and collectively bargaining.

Although the organizing process varies slightly depending upon which labor board administers the law covering your workplace, there are three easy ways to form a union and join the IFT.

#1: Voluntary Employer Recognition
During the organizing process, employees have the right to demand voluntary recognition from the employer. Voluntary recognition allows the employer to acknowledge your union without the need to conduct an election, after which your union can be certified by the appropriate labor board. This is the least common option.

#2: Election
When at least 30% of the potential members have signed union authorization cards, the union will file a petition for an election with the appropriate labor board.

The board will thoroughly review the cards, and the names of those who have signed them remain confidential throughout the process.

The election will be by secret ballot and run by the appropriate labor board. The outcome of the election is decided by a simple majority. If you and your colleagues elect IFT representation, you can begin bargaining your contract with your employer.

#3: Card Check
The simplest and most effective organizing option is to use “card check.” Educational and public employees in Illinois can form a union when a majority of employees sign cards indicating they want to form a union. Once a majority+1 potential members sign these authorization cards, the union will file a petition with the appropriate labor board. The board verifies the cards. The authorization cards remain confidential throughout the process. (Remember, this option is available only to educational and public employees, not private sector workers.)


Following certification of your union by the labor board and with the assistance of the IFT, your new union will be formalized with the issuance of a charter. You can then begin creating a constitution and bylaws, electing your colleagues as union officers, and bargaining the contract for your group.

It will be YOUR union, so you and your colleagues will elect officers and representatives who oversee your organization and report to the members on all matters pertaining to your union. Your local’s elected officers will also be responsible for enforcing your contract, with support and assistance from the IFT available whenever needed.
Learn more about how easy it is to take the next step and join the IFT! For K-12 schools and public employees, contact Kathy Shaevel. For higher education, contact Arnoldo Fabela. 



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  • Why is collective bargaining under attack?

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Teachers at Old Town School of Folk Music file to form union

by Jennifer Visk | Dec 11, 2018
Request voluntary recognition from administration, will be members of IFT
CHICAGO – At a rally filled with music and celebration, teachers from the Old Town School of Folk Music announced today that an overwhelming majority of faculty have signed cards to form a union with the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) and have a greater voice to address issues in their workplace. Immediately prior to the event, the teachers – who formed the Old Town Teachers Organization (OTTO) - requested voluntary recognition of the union from School administration. If the School declines, an election will take place in the coming weeks.

The teachers began their organizing drive in November 2017 with support from local workers’ rights group Arise Chicago. OTTO 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.
“We are passionate about the work we do and proud to be a part of this historic institution,” said Lindsay Weinberg, an Old Town School teacher of piano, guitar, and voice for thirteen years. “Our group came together fueled by a strong 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 Old Town mission that we believe the best way forward is to form a union with the Illinois Federation of Teachers. An overwhelming majority of teachers have signed union cards, and we have filed our petition with the National Labor Relations Board. As a collective group, we will ensure that our knowledge, talents, and voices are valued by the administration. And 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. This is a huge and historic moment for our school, and I daresay that Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger would be proud.”
“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. “As the administration became aware of our work, we hoped to be viewed as equal stakeholders in the positive future of the school, but instead, we were viewed as at-will employees with no real power. That’s when we decided to align with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, who could help us set up a union within the Old Town School, built and run by the teachers who work there.”
“Arise Chicago has had the honor of working with OTTO for one year,” said Rev. C.J. Hawking, Executive Director of Arise Chicago. “Everything they do, including unionizing, is to serve the mission of the School and their students. Forming a union is the DNA of the School and will help secure its future.”
“Our schools have long struggled for enough funding to provide the arts education our students deserve. How lucky we are in Chicago then, to have an iconic cultural institution like the Old Town School of Folk Music,” said Dan Montgomery, President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and a high school English teacher. “The teachers at Old Town provide a community like none other. Their work has dignity, and they deserve a voice that reaches beyond the stage. On behalf of the 100,000 members of the IFT, we are inspired by their effort to organize and proudly welcome them to our union. Studs Terkel would be mighty proud.”

OTTO was joined today by students, community members, and supporters of their work.
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