More than a thousand teachers marched down La Salle Street on Thursday afternoon, starting in the heart of Chicago’s financial district, to protest a recent contract offer by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“Rahm’s gotta go,” was among the more popular chants from teachers who filled the street as they snaked their way to their eventual destination, City Hall.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis took part in the peaceful march, but her role in contract negotiations with Chicago Public Schools has come under criticism from some teachers.
Earlier this week, a CTU bargaining committee unanimously voted down a contract offer — rejecting a deal that CTU officials initially described as a “serious offer.”
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool called that rejection disappointing, given the intense negotiations, and ratcheted up the pressure on negotiations this week by announcing $100 million in cuts and a decision to stop CPS’ 7 percent contribution to teachers’ pensions. Lewis called those moves “an act of war.”
If there was any animosity toward Lewis and her approach to the offer, which was ultimately found to be unpalatable, it was hidden Thursday.
“We love you Karen,” supporters shouted as Lewis made her way through the crowds.
At the rally, Lewis bolstered her troops and spoke briefly with reporters about Gov. Bruce Rauner’s quest for a state takeover of CPS.
“How is he going to take over CPS if he can’t even do a budget with the state,” Lewis said. “He needs to set his own house in order and he needs to sit down before he breaks something.”
“We’re still under the old contract, so to unilaterally make a change in the contract as far as we’re concerned is a declaration of war,” she said.
Lewis addressed a wider audience while explaining the rally and march.
“We need to have people understand in this entire country that there is a big schism between the wealthy and those of us who are not so wealthy. It’s just that simple — let alone between the working class and the poor.”
She went on to call for government reform: “I’d like to see some revenue, a progressive income tax, and clean out the TIFS and give them back to the agencies they’ve been stolen from.”