For field rep Adriana Cervantes, there is no typical work day — and that’s exactly how she likes it. “Every day is different. It’s what I love about my job,” she said.
Cervantes is a lifelong Chicagoan raised on the southeast side of Chicago. She graduated from Henry Clay Elementary School and Washington High School. Before becoming a field representative in 2014, Cervantes taught history at Hubbard High School for 13 years.
But she didn’t originally set out to become a teacher. Her first career was as a mechanic for an auto leasing company. When she went back to school at the University of Illinois Chicago, though, she found she loved history and decided she would use her degree to teach. “Once I became a teacher, I just wanted to be good at what I did and perfect my craft.” she said.
As a teacher, Cervantes said she focused on relating history to current events, to show students how the past impacts where we are today and how to use this to navigate the world. She taught IB World History and U.S. history with a focus on highlighting Mexican and Mexican American history since the majority of students at Hubbard were of Mexican descent.
Cervantes said she loved teaching and wasn’t looking for a career change, but over the years she had become more involved in the union’s activities. “I signed my union card on my first day of work, no questions asked,” she said. “I was and still am so proud to be a CTU member.”
Cervantes became more active in the union as CPS began rolling out the REACH evaluations in 2013. At the time, her school had an interim administrator and the staff worried that evaluations would not be done properly and the contract would not be enforced. So, she stepped up and ran for school delegate to ensure the staff had effective representation.
“I feel like in my first year as delegate, I faced every conceivable issue a delegate could deal with, from being assigned multiple room assignments to missing prep periods to fighting for a librarian,” she said. The school established its first PPC to enforce the union’s contract and began holding monthly union meetings. Along with the associate delegate, she also organized the faculty, students, and community to fight a CPS plan to take over land that belonged to Hubbard’s football field in order to build another school.
As an active delegate, Cervantes worked closely with CTU organizers and field reps. When a position on CTU staff opened up in 2014, she felt it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
The issues field reps tackle are challenging — they deal with members on some of their worst days at work. Cervantes sees her role as helping members feel empowered to speak up and advocate for themselves and their colleagues.
Cervantes said she tries to explain to members that filing a grievance can only do so much and it takes time, when members need immediate results. So, she encourages them to work together and think outside the box for ways to address their concerns. “Grievances don’t magically fix things — there’s no secret sauce,” she said. “Our contract is a blueprint, but members need to organize and change the culture in the building so that it can be enforced.”
She is particularly proud of a case where a bully principal had been harassing a member for years. CTU filed a grievance and the principal doubled down on that harassment. That prompted other staff members to rally to the member’s side, file their own grievances and eventually the principal was pushed out.
“Our goal wasn’t to get rid of the principal,” she said. “But when the administration finally pushes the wrong button and it activates that spark with the membership at the school, that’s the moment I enjoy the most. We never know what will be the last straw for members. Every school is different.”