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Englewood Chess Coach Who Crossed Picket Line Faces June Hearing With Union

 Chess coach Joseph Ocol helps his students practice after school.
Chess coach Joseph Ocol helps his students practice after school.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

WEST ENGLEWOOD — The standoff between the Earle STEM Academy chess coach and the Chicago Teacher’s Union is heating up.

Math teacher Joseph Ocol’s decision to not join his teachers on the picket line during a one-day strike April 1 has jeopardized his membership with the union. He is being asked to give the pay he received for working that day to the union or say why he shouldn't have to at a June 6 hearing.

Ocol said he worked that day so he could be with his students.

CTU’s strike policy specifically states that members who go against the union and who are found guilty by a jury of their peers will have their membership suspended, said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin.

“A strike breaker will be given the option to pay a fine equal to the member's net earnings while working in order to be reinstated, if they so choose,” she said in an email. “If they choose not to pay the fine they will be expelled from the Union.”

Even with that knowledge, Ocol is trying to appeal, seeking an alternative action. He said he will offer up his pay if it’s guaranteed that it will go to the students, not CTU. He wants the money to help his chess champions travel to the White House.

Right now, the team is awaiting confirmation for an early June visit with President Obama. He can only take the all-girls chess team, who took home a national championship trophy last month, but there are 35 members on the team, not five.

Ocol said in a letter Monday saying that he has decided to not attend his June 6 hearing because he has practice with his students.

“I do not wish to be absent because I have always promised the kids that I shall always try to be with them after school even if I do not get paid,” he said in the letter he shared with DNAinfo.

He said that CPS doesn’t have the resources to pay coaches or mentors for any of the afterschool programs, which is why he has been volunteering his time from 4-6 p.m. for chess practice. The hearing is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. and he refuses to leave his students early to get there, he said.

Ocol also said he’s tired of the bullying he has been receiving from other union members. He filed a complaint last month. People have been sending him “nasty” messages saying that he should leave CPS and work for a charter school.

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