Friday morning, Natasha Lopez had her car parked in a no-parking
zone near the line of striking Community Renewal Team child-care
workers. Her mother, Rosa Carmona, one of the striking teachers,
rushed down Windsor Street with a stroller when the cops started
telling Lopez that she had to move her car.
You want me to come back here or should I meet you at home?
Lopez asked her mother as they both struggled to strap in 2-year-old
They just started working out the logistics when the chanting
We want a contract!
What? Carmona shouted at her daughter.
We want a contract!
Meet you here or home? Lopez repeated.
This is life for the Lopez/Carmona household these days. When
union officials talk about the sacrifices and hardships the workers
who make anywhere from $10 to $14 an hour endure, they aren't
just talking about having to beg for a raise while the guy who
runs the place pulls down 300 grand.
All week, it's been like this
- hectic handoffs between mother and daughter as they take
turns tending Amaya on the picket line or in classrooms. Lopez
made so many trips between the line and school and work that
at one point last week she thought something had to be wrong
with the gas gauge, "It was like the gas
was disappearing," the 21-year-old said.
It wasn't supposed to be like
this. By this point, Lopez had planned to be a sophomore at
Post University in Waterbury, studying business administration
and accounting and playing Division II basketball. "I'm small, but aggressive," Lopez
And then, three months before graduation from Sports Academy,
she discovered she was pregnant.
To say her mother was disappointed would be an understatement,
Lopez says. She was disappointed, too, but determined to stay
on track. She enrolled at Manchester Community College, got a
part-time job at the book store, and this year joined the basketball
Now it's not just about making my life better, Lopez said, but
But it all depends on day care for Amaya. That's the difference
between staying in school and dropping out - Lopez has seen plenty
of classmates quit school over child-care issues. It's the difference
between losing and keeping a job, an apartment. Between success
and failure - in life and this strike.
"I have to feed my kids," one
teacher yelled to women on the line who chastised her for breaking
the strike. More than half the teachers are working despite
the strike, CRT says. And those who stayed out have had to
make some tough decisions.
A teacher's assistant, Virgen Rodriguez, was forced to bring
her child to the day-care center. She had him with her during
a one-day strike back in September, but it just didn't work.
He wasn't as easily amused on the picket line as Amaya is.
So she had to swallow hard and drop him off at one of the CRT
day-care centers before heading to the picket line on Windsor
"I didn't really have a choice," she
Carmona, who is standing behind her, looks a little dismayed,
but says nothing. Limited options come with limited income and
limited income comes with limited options. It's a nasty cycle,
and sometimes you have to do things you don't want to, things
you'd never think you ever would. Principles don't pay the bills.
By Monday, Carmona says, she and her daughter might be in the
They can't keep up this hectic schedule. They lucked out with
the weather this week, but a picket line isn't a place for a
2-year-old. Maybe it's time they do what Rodriguez did and just
drop the baby off, Carmona suggests.
The idea sits as badly with mother as it does daughter. It goes
against everything her mother taught her, Lopez said.
Sacrificing to standing up for what's right is a tradition in
their house - one handed down from mother to daughter. And now,
apparently, to granddaughter.
The other day, Carmona heard her granddaughter singing. She
went closer to listen, thinking it might be her ABCs, which she's
learning, or maybe a jingle from one of the shows she likes.
It was a little mangled, peppered with baby talk, Carmona said,
but she heard it clear as day: What do we want? Contract. When
do we want it? Now.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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