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Day Care On The Line

COMMENTARY by Helen Ubiñas
November 6, 2005

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 Amaya.

They just started working out the logistics when the chanting began.

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 said.

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 team.

Now it's not just about making my life better, Lopez said, but Amaya's too.

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 Street.

"I didn't really have a choice," she says, sheepishly.

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 same position.

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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