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Remembering Norm G. Swenson

September 4, 1934 – August 12, 2023


Norman G. Swenson founded the Cook County College Teachers Union (CCCTU) and served as its President for 40 years. NGS was born in Hazel Crest, Illinois, attended Thorton High School, and earned an MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago. He started working on Chicago’s LaSalle Street but soon began teaching business classes at Olive Harvey, one of the seven Chicago Community Colleges (CCC). Quickly, he found his lifetime mission to organize and unionize community colleges.


In 1967, he led a one-week strike by CCCTU against the Chicago City Colleges in order to obtain a collective bargaining contract. He was sentenced to 30 days in Cook County Jail for leading the strike and defying a back to work order issued by the Cook County Court. In 1969 he led another CCCTU strike. This one lasted 5 weeks, and he again defied a court order to end the strike. The court issued a 5 month Cook County Jail sentence for this strike action. He served all 30 days for the first strike action and one week for the second strike. He was later granted executive clemency by Governor Dan Walker and received full pardons for both strike actions. As a result of these actions, a law covering teacher strikes was enacted. Its purpose is to provide peaceful resolutions to teacher strikes. These strikes resulted in the first collective bargaining contract for public employees in Chicago.


Norman G Swenson was instrumental in passing the Illinois Tenure Act. After the Tenure Act became law, Community College instructors earned tenure after 3 years of teaching experience. Prior to the act, it could take 6-7 years or more.


During his 40-year presidency, he was elected Community College Vice President in the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). He became a national leader for AFT community college. As such he helped organize community colleges and worked for better faculty working conditions and student learning in many states. During his term as CCCTU president and AFT vice president, he organized City Colleges of Chicago, Harper College, Morton College, Moraine Valley College, Oakton College, Prairie State College, South Suburban College, and Triton College. CCCTU now represents 5,000 union members. He negotiated 35 contracts and led 17 strikes. He represented AFT at many international educational meetings including Paris, Australia, and Germany. Norman served as a poll watcher and international observer for Nelson Mandela during the South Africa presidential election.


He was married to Ellen (Michalovitz) Swenson for 58 years, a teacher he met while both served on the Executive Board of the Chicago Teachers Union. His children are Lisa (deceased), Ingrid, Kenneth, and Karen. Grandchildren are Dylan Hult and Peter Swenson. In lieu of flowers, please send contributions to the Norman G. Swenson scholarship fund at CCCTU, 1901 W. Carroll, Chicago, IL 60612. For further information call 312-755-9400.


A “Celebration of Norm’s Life” is planned for Saturday September 9th. Come join us at Peace Memorial Church at 11:00. Peace Memorial is located at 10300 W. 131st Street, Palos Park, IL 60464. If you intend on attending, RSVP at dradtke2133@gmail.com would be appreciated.

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