By Tim Hogan
FOSCO PARK- At today’s Chicago Parks District Board of Commissioners meeting, the election of its President and Vice President were the headline items on the Agenda. Until the public comments section came along.
Chicago Park District workers, in coordination with SEIU Local 73, used their 2 minutes a-piece of public comments time to make their cases for better conditions, pay and benefits for the park district’s hourly workers. Natatorium Instructor Johanna Leiva and Playground Supervisor Venus Roman-Valino both spoke, on their disappointments with low pay, lack of advancement and support over their long Chicago Park District careers.
“The lack of pay for the work we do is unfair,” said Leiva, who has worked for the parks for 17 years. “I do the job of a monthly [worker] and get paid about $20,000 less.”
Roman-Valino, a 20 years parks employee followed, “We haven’t seen a decent raise in year, yet the cost of living in the city continues to rise. As park district employees, we are mandated to live in Chicago but we can barley afford to sustain our families with our paychecks.”
As the two spoke, supporters from the park district workers and SEIU 73 stood with protest signs, advocating their positions.
“The district has made a majority of the parks’ workforce hourly, meaning my co-workers receive no benefits, no paid vacation, no sick time. We cannot let the district play games any longer. We are calling for a time out!” Roman-Valino said.
Before moving on to the other public comments, board president Avis LaVelle responded to the park district workers. “It is odd that park district employees would make complaints and try to negotiate during a public meeting, especially when we have ongoing private negotiations. But we will not be discussing this any further at this meeting.”
The park district and its employees have been in negotiations since the beginning of 2019, but there is no news on any decisions or agreements between the parties. After the meeting, SEIU members and park district workers huddled to give each other support and decide their next steps. Venus Roman-Valino didn’t feel like the board gave a good response, or even bothered to hear them, but was looking forward to bringing their message to more public forums.
Meeting Odds & Ends
Earlier in the meeting, after the board had voted-in Avis LaVelle as president and David A. Helfand as vice president, a group of advocates for the sport of ‘pickleball’ spoke to the board. It was my first introduction to the sport, but it is apparently spreading like wildfire across these United States.
“Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country,” the chief pickler said. (I wasn’t able to get the advocate’s name, which I count as a noob’s lackluster reporting effort, but If anyone has more information, please contact me at my twitter: @hcehogan.)
The group asked for a master pickleball plan and dedicated central courts, building on the ones at Maggie Daley Park they have worked with Alderman Reilly to put in place. And these asks come on the heels of minor tragedy.
Recently, Chicago has lost the prestigious Chicago-Area pickleball tourney to neighboring Naperville, due to lack of dedicated pickle courts— basically converted tennis courts of smaller dimensions.
Though Naperville may have the glamour of the upcoming Chicago-Area picklefest, the picklers were certain to praise Fosco Park for its efforts in becoming a local home for pickleball. “They have really opened their arms, and their gym.”
“And though its mostly us old people, its a diverse sport that could be a model for the city: old people of all kinds, that want to get together, socialize and have fun.”
And when you contemplate that image, it really does sound like the future of the country.