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Some CPS employees told to go to Billiken Parade

2012 Bud Billiken Parade

2012 Bud Billiken Parade

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Updated: September 11, 2013 6:13AM

The annual Bud Billiken Parade, which steps off Saturday morning from Oakwood Boulevard and King Drive, is a festive occasion, filled with marching bands and youthful optimism and timed to get families into the back-to-school spirit.

But for some employees of Chicago Public Schools, the celebration might be all in a day’s work. A memo from their boss’ top assistant orders them to participate, although a schools spokeswoman said it shouldn’t be interpreted that way.

Robert Boik, chief of staff to schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, issued the instruction to central office employees Thursday. His email begins with a general appeal to support the parade, as if it’s a call for volunteers.

But then it puts down the hammer. “All salaried exempt employees should plan to attend the parade and walk with the CPS float. If you are unable to do so, you must inform your cabinet level officer,” Boik said, using a term for department heads.

Employees who contacted the Sun-Times said they read the memo as an order. “All this on only a two-day notice,” said one. “What’s next, Irish, Puerto Rican and Gay Pride [parades]?”

The memo was addressed to salaried workers who don’t belong to the Chicago Teachers Union or other organized labor in the CPS system.

Keiana Barrett, CPS press secretary, said the email has been misinterpreted and that employees are not being forced to attend. She said CPS has a long-term partnership with the parade and wants a good showing to kick off the school year that begins Aug. 26.

“Emails have gone out in previous years encouraging people to attend and asking for all hands on deck. There is nothing unique to this year’s parade,” Barrett said.

Peter Andjelkovich, a labor attorney, said the salaried workers for the CPS, like nonunion workers elsewhere, can be fired at any time, so they might be best advised to show up.

“It sounds like a directive,” he said. “The real question is if they don’t come, will they be disciplined?”

One CPS worker who reached the Sun-Times said he heard attendance would be taken at the parade.

But Barrett said there will be no backlash and no names demanded. To do so, she said, wouldn’t fit with the parade’s cheerful and somewhat chaotic nature.

“Certainly, we want a wonderful contingent of support from our CPS family,” she said.

The Bud Billiken Parade dates from 1929 and was started by the Chicago Defender. Its name comes in part from a guardian angel of children in Chinese lore. The parade typically ends with scores of family picnics in Washington Park.


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