If you ask Field Rep extraordinaire Kathy Murray what led her to work for the CTU, she has two words for you.
Murray was a delegate who worked at a well-run school with no labor issues, Owen Scholastic Academy, the school she attended as a child. But Emanuel’s anti-teacher, anti-public pensioner, anti-union rhetoric, drove the entire CTU membership at her school to take action.
They began attending union rallies and pickets downtown. In 2011, they took an early straw poll for a strike vote and it was unanimous. They would all walk if the union asked them to.
“I called the CTU office to tell the officers that the members at Owen Scholastic Academy had taken a strike vote,” she recalled. “It was unanimous. We were fed up and decided we were going to stand up.”
Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Murray’s parents were city and county workers and she always knew she, too, would be a public servant. After earning a degree in Elementary Education from Eastern Illinois University, she started working as a kindergarten teacher in Roseland, then Hegewisch, and finally at Owen Scholastic Academy, her own childhood school.
“My mother taught me that the two most important items on a paycheck are your health insurance and pension,” she said. “And it’s the union that wins those benefits for you. Bosses don’t provide them out of the goodness of their hearts.”
In 2009, Murray became the elected CTU delegate at Owen, where she was guided by some great unionists who had walked the picket lines in the 1980s with then-CTU President Jackie Vaughn.
“Those ladies taught me well,” Murray said. “I had always supported the CTU, but they lived and breathed the union and that rubbed off on me.”
In 2011, inspired by the transformation of CTU under Karen Lewis and CORE, Murray joined the CTU’s first Summer Organizing Institute. That experience led her to the CTU organizing department, where she worked until becoming a field rep in 2016. After earning a masters degree in Human Resource Management from Roosevelt University, she transitioned in 2021 to her current staff position, field/health and benefits representative.
In that role, she helps members navigate the sometimes complicated health benefits the CTU contract has won. Her work became even more challenging during the pandemic, as members and their families contracted COVID and needed medical leave and remote work options.
“Like a lot of people, the instantaneous transition to remote work was difficult — for me as a union staff member but, especially for our members,” she said. “We were in a constant battle with CPS and the mayor over our safety, attending car caravans instead of rallies, and having to address the real life and death crises members were facing.”
Recently, she helped a member whose health insurance had been terminated when she transitioned from TAT to a PAT. The board claimed she had never enrolled in benefits, but Murray found email evidence to the contrary. Faced with its screw up, CPS agreed to restore the member’s benefits, forgive any missed premiums and pay all medical bills that accrued in the interim.
In her job, Murray supports CTU members through some of their most difficult days when they are ill and in need of medical care and leave.
“I take pride in supporting our members by helping them access their benefits during an illness,” she said. “But when one of them passes, it does hit me hard. Those are the most difficult days for me.”
Whether she’s a CTU delegate, organizer or the health and benefits field rep, Murray believes helping our members ultimately helps our students. If you have healthcare issues, you definitely want Kathy on your side.