When it comes to CTU and the mayor’s office, times have changed since the days of Rahm

For one, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is not Rahm Emanuel. Her administration’s posture in the negotiations is also quite different.

SHARE When it comes to CTU and the mayor’s office, times have changed since the days of Rahm
Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, speaks at a press conference on June 3, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, speaks at a press conference on June 3, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

Around this time in 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union had just returned to classrooms after its first strike in 25 years. Led by President Karen Lewis, the streets flooded with teachers and allies, wearing red and picketing in solidarity.

It was an incredible and unforgettable moment for all Chicagoans. Even with Chicago being the heart and soul of the American labor movement, it still had been a long time since there had been such a powerful show of force from a union in our town.

Like thousands of other Chicagoans, I watched that strike with great interest and sympathized deeply with the cause of the union.

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Seven years later, the CTU appears to be gearing up to once again go on strike, perhaps with the hope of channeling some of the electricity of those two weeks in 2012.

But there are many differences between 2012 and today.

For one, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is not Rahm Emanuel. She was elected on a progressive reform wave. Hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans turned out earlier this year to demand real, bottom-up change that addresses the needs of working people and all neighborhoods across the city.

Mayor Lightfoot’s administration’s posture in the negotiations is also quite different from the Emanuel administration’s.

In 2012, the Emanuel administration’s move to rescind a 4% raise from teachers was a major driver among the issues leading to the strike. That breach of promise symbolized the administration’s overall attitude toward the contract and the union.

Mayor Emanuel also moved to increase the length of the school day and year without increasing teacher compensation to account for the extra work they’d be required to do. One of his top education advisors was Bruce Rauner. And Mayor Emanuel was famously quoted directing one of his trademark vulgarities toward Karen Lewis — a moment many CTU members have never forgotten.

Mayor Lightfoot has worked to foster just the opposite tone. As president of the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education, it’s been made clear to me and all other board members that the goal is to reach a fair, respectful deal that does right by teachers. The mayor and CTU President Jesse Sharkey have met, and are seeking to build an amicable, communicative relationship.

Other things are different from 2012, too. Unlike the CPS Boards of Education of the past, the current board — in place until an elected, representative school board can take over — is a diverse, progressive group that holds the values of equity and accountability at the heart of all that we do. We have educators at the helm of CPS in Dr. Janice K. Jackson and Latanya D. McDade — both CPS alumni and former CPS teachers themselves.

While we all agree that salaries are only one part of these negotiations, the Lightfoot administration made clear its desire to compensate educators fairly from the outset, offering a 14 percent raise over five years, which it has since increased to 16 percent based on an independent fact finder’s report. Most teachers will see pay increases of 24 percent or more, far outpacing what teachers have received in other major cities in recent years.

But there are other issues at play as well.

The mayor has heard the concerns around understaffing in schools and has committed to hiring 200 social workers and 250 nurses in the coming school years. When this hiring is over, CPS will have enough nurses to have one in every school, and its ratio of social workers to students will be among the best for large districts across the nation. This will make a real difference in the lives of our students and we applaud the CTU for fighting for these improvements to our schools.

The 2020 CPS budget funds the first wave of hires for these positions. And the Lightfoot administration has offered to promise, in writing, that none of those jobs will be privatized — they’ll remain public, and those employees will be able to join the union, adding to CTU’s rank and file.

The negotiations are ongoing, and CPS and the mayor have committed to being at the table as much as it takes with the critical goal of reaching a contract that respects teachers, improves schools and enriches our children’s lives. We want to keep students in the classroom.

The leadership of the CTU shares our goals. They are powerful advocates for their members and our students. We know they have not always been treated fairly in the past, but it’s a new day in City Hall. We have a pro-public education mayor, who campaigned on a charter school moratorium, on a more equitable approach to school funding, and on a pro-union, pro-worker agenda.

Mayor Lightfoot and CTU share a vision for an equitable, fully funded public school system. We are confident we will get there, together.

Miguel del Valle is president of the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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