CHICAGO (CBS) — Approximately 130 child care workers at 10 Chicago area YMCAs were on a one-day strike on Thursday, protesting what they said are poverty level wages and insufficient staffing levels at YMCA-run child care centers.

The workers started walking the picket line at 6:30 a.m. Thursday.

The strike means all Head Start and Early Head Start, and some School Age child care programs at 10 YMCA facilities in the Chicago area were canceled on Thursday.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois, which represents the workers, accused the YMCA of unfair labor practices, claiming the child care workers’ wages are at or near poverty level, and have resulted in staffing shortages at YMCA child care centers.

“There are currently 50 unfilled child care positions at the YMCA due to high turnover and low wages. Despite the staffing crisis, YMCA management called workers’ proposals for living wages ‘a fantasy,’ and only offered 1% raises to nearly half of the bargaining unit. Child care workers and low-income families bear the brunt of the Y’s poverty wages, while YMCA CEO Dick Malone makes $300 per hour,” the union stated in a press release.

Devan Richardson, a pre-school teacher for the YMCA, said she has a master’s degree, but is paid like a baby sitter.

“We are teachers; have the education. We’re not just babysitters,” she said.

Richardson didn’t want to say exactly how much she earns after seven years on the job, but union officials said half of the YMCA child care workers are paid only minimum wage.

“The other half make barely above that,” said SEIU Healthcare Illinois president Greg Kelley.

Richardson said she has two children, but can’t afford to enroll her youngest child in the YMCA’s daycare program.

“The market rate for childcare here is extremely high, and if I paid that, I would not have a home to live in,” she said.

YMCA officials said they were surprised the workers were staging a one-day strike.

“Over the past few months, the YMCA has made significant economic proposals that protect the interests of our employees, as well as the long-term sustainability of the YMCA. We continue to use our best efforts to reach an agreement with the union, and both sides will be back at the bargaining table Monday,” a YMCA spokesperson said in an email.

Kelley said the union believes YMCA Chicago can afford to pay a living wage to the child care workers.

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