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YMCA childcare workers strike in Chicago

CHICAGO — Childcare workers at 10 YMCA locations across Chicago went on strike Thursday, demanding higher wages and better working conditions.

"I make $15.50 an hour, and I have a BA in early-childhood education with a certification in infants and toddlers," said Tahiti Hamer, who works with infants at a YMCA in Garfield Park on the West Side.

Hamer said she cannot afford childcare for her own children and that many YMCA centers are understaffed.

She is one of more than 100 childcare workers at Chicago YMCA locations represented by the Service Employees International Union of Illinois and Indiana (SEIU), which helped organize Thursday's pickets.

"It's an unfair labor practice strike," said Greg Kelly, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois. "The YMCA management has engaged in a number of unfair labor practices — everything from intimidation to threats — really trying to break the workers."

In a statement, the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago said it's committed to a fair and productive negotiation process with the union and will continue its best efforts to reach an agreement:

"Given that negotiations are ongoing, we were surprised that SEIU leaders decided to call a one-day strike by YMCA union employees on Thursday, March 1. Because of SEIU's decision, the YMCA was forced to cancel ... programs on Thursday, resulting in disruption of services to the families in our programs."

YMCA teacher Linda Aguilar said she's looking for a second job to make ends meet.

"It's not enough," Aguilar told WGN News. "I'm not making enough to make my school payments and [pay off] the credit debt that I accumulated while paying for books and things that I couldn't afford."

Two Democratic gubernatorial candidates voiced support for the striking workers.

The strikes were held across 10 locations in Chicago on Thursday. Workers hope they get YMCA's attention before union and management negotiators head back to the bargaining table Monday.