“Get up, get down- Parma is a union town!”
Less than half a mile from Summit Academy Community School, the site of the fourth charter school teacher strike in American history, is a building with the words “UAW Local 1005” on the side. The sign outside of the Chevrolet Boulevard building reminds passersby of the unions bowling schedule. Only a few hundred yards away, the GM Fabrication Plant can be seen from the union headquarters while the headquarters of Sheet Metal Workers Local 33 is located on the other side of the street on Corporate Drive. This is Parma, a suburb of Cleveland, the seventh largest city in Ohio and a place where labor unions continue to shape the city’s form and function.
In 1931, Parma became a city after its residents refused to annex with the City of Cleveland. However, unlike many older suburbs of Cleveland, Parma is not a “bedroom community,” rather the city was built to include homes as well as large commercial and industrial spaces. Still, like the City of Cleveland and many of the other inner-ring suburbs, Parma’s population has steadily declined as the region has shifted away from the 20th century industrial model.
Nevertheless, the union buildings and the yearly Labor Day picnic stand strong.
A few blocks from the UAW building at the local library, I met with the teachers from Summit Academy on February 7th, only a week after they voted to authorize a strike. At the picket line, several echoed many of the same sentiments, including intervention specialist Heather Sedlak, who added that they’ve received an outpour of support from parents and students. “[They] have told us they support us 100%,” says Sedlak. Sedlak is unhappy that the union and management have not come to an agreement but is hopeful that the strike won’t last more than a week.
Bob Kaufman, a high school math teacher in his 11th year at Summit, would like to return to his classroom soon but is not optimistic. According to Kaufman, it was apparent from the start of the negotiation process that Summit Academy Management (SAM) was not going to take the union’s perspective seriously. He told me that management has threatened to shut down the school in Parma and make arrangements for the students to attend other Summit Academy schools. For Kaufmann, going back to a school without the much-needed support for the staff is not an option. “[Teachers] stay because this is a calling for us, but it doesn’t seem to be for management.”
Teachers and intervention specialists at Summit Academy were joined at the picket line by parents as well as members of other unions and labor-supporting organizations. Members of the Cleveland AFL-CIO, DSA Cleveland, United Steelworkers, Unite Here Local 24 (a local service industry union) and others joined the group standing on the narrow sidewalk on Stumph Road on Tuesday. The local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians (local 4) brought not only their spirits but their instruments. A member of neighboring DSA chapter coordinated an effort to purchase food for the teachers and the local pizza shop agreed to hold the excess pies for another day. James Miller, a Summit Academy parent, lives in Parma and works a short distance from the school.
“Support needs to be full-fledged,” says Miller, whose daughter found a home and friends she feels she fits in with when she began attending Summit Academy two years ago. Miller has been an outspoken advocate for the teachers and believes, “Parma is behind them.”
A young teacher with a megaphone and a hand-held speaker system said the community support has been overwhelming, including a strike fund with donations from a number of local organizations and individuals. But, despite the indelible mark Labor has left on the city, every strike effort comes with uncertainty. “We just want a contract,” the teacher says. And as the picket line grows and the cars honk louder, the teachers and intervention specialists are settling in for the long-haul.