We are so excited to announce that Candis Castillo will be joining United Working Families as our first Organizing Director! Candis, a daughter of Chicago's south side, is a proven and passionate labor leader.
Read more about her story in her own words here:
I grew up in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago. My grandparents, who lived next door, were strong union members and from an early age I knew the union made a difference, because my parents had jobs without one. I began to organize in high school, where we developed a direct action strategy against the principal of the school, who had created racially discriminatory policies on hairstyles and nail color. Through direct action, we were able to have the polices revoked and have the principal removed. It was the first time in my life that I saw the power of organized people and realized that I could be an agent of change. I went on to attend Alabama A&M, a Historically Black College/University where I was able to dig into my own Afro-Latino history and heritage even further.
After graduation, I began organizing teachers with the American Federation of Teachers/United Teachers of New Orleans, where I met Black women who made the work of uplifting and educating the community their life mission. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita these women did not stop seeking justice. As they lost their homes, their jobs, and nearly lost their union, they continued to fight for their community.
On my very first organizing campaign with United Teachers of New Orleans, the teachers came up one vote short of winning back their collective bargaining rights that they lost after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Even though over 75% of the teachers had signed cards in support of the union and we had overwhelming community support, it was not enough to persuade four of the seven board members to recognize their union. That was when I first realized the importance of having elected officials who are on the side of working people.
As my organizing career moved further along, I built more and more support and organization with workers--but encountered more and more opposition from politicians. While working with airport workers in Chicago, for example, we could feel the momentum from the workers, but the rigged political process intervened to deny workers a living wage.
By the time I started working with graduate employees at the University of Chicago, I had had enough. Rights as workers of graduate employees have been subject to the whim of whichever political party holds power. It doesn’t matter that graduate employees touch almost every aspect of university life, it doesn’t matter that they do ground-breaking research in disease and medicine, and it definitely did not matter that in many cases they voted overwhelmingly to be union in the first place. Graduate employees' very existence as workers have been questioned in our current political system for over 20 years. In October, Graduate Students United won a decisive union election and are now a certified local of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)!
Around this time last year, still very much in shock from the election of Donald Trump and in the midst of the University of Chicago campaign, I was watching the news and saw that 43 percent of union households voted for Trump. My very first reaction was ‘fake news,’ but then I thought about the 2015 mayoral campaign in Chicago. We voted overwhelmingly for an elected school board but we didn’t vote for the candidate that would give us one. In fact, we voted for the person that said they definitely wouldn’t give us one!
That was when I decided not only did that have to change but that I actively wanted to work to change it. That led me to United Working Families: an organization built by the workers, seeking out candidates who will hold up the values of the workers, and not the super-donors. I'm thrilled to be joining United Working Families as Organizing Director. I look forward to listening to our members, growing our membership, and winning for workers across Illinois!