CTU Chief Lewis: Contract talks likely during mayoral election

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The president of the Chicago Teachers Union said Monday that her members will opt against extending their contract for a fourth year, raising the likelihood that there will be contract negotiations right into the mayoral election — with a union that’s not afraid to strike. 

“I’m not looking to make anybody’s election year easy at all, especially someone who doesn’t want to make our lives easy,” said Karen Lewis, referring to the mayor who reportedly once directed the f-word at her. “So if there’s a way we can have some reasonable conversation, then sure, but if not, it’s going to be contentious, absolutely, as it should.

RELATED: Karen Lewis is campaigning all right — against the mayor LIVE BLOG: CTU President Karen Lewis speaks at City Club

“I think all elections need to be contentious, because it means people are involved and engaged in a real democratic process,” Lewis said after a speech to the City Club of Chicago.

As for who might run against Rahm Emanuel, Lewis said, “I’m sure whoever could win an election against the mayor will emerge shortly,” and later praised Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s leadership style as “less confrontational” than Emanuel’s.

The mayoral election takes place in February 2015. Emanuel has said that he’s running for re-election, and he’s raising money at a frenzied pace. He has $7 million in the bank and an upcoming fundraiser headlined by former President Bill Clinton, his former boss, in June. The mayor’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment.

In 2012, negotiations began in January — about six months before that contract expired — and culminated in a historic seven-day teachers strike. This time, CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said the union hopes to start talks as early as this summer.

Under the current contract, Chicago Public Schools spokesman Joel Hood said the district has until April 2015 to decide whether to offer the fourth-year extension.

“My team and I are focused on finishing this school year strong for our students, parents, teachers and administrators and we are not yet focused on contract negotiations for next year,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, with whom Lewis has a good working relationship, said in an email.

Meanwhile, the CTU has been negotiating with the Board of Education over their pensions, with Lewis leading the public fight against the kind of cuts borne by city laborers and park district workers in separate deals already reached with the city.

In her speech to the City Club, she also zinged Emanuel’s recent announcement of a new selective enrollment high school to be named for the president. That school will be less than a mile from Walter Payton College Prep, another prestigious test-in high school.

She also accused the mayor of using financial crises as a management tool.

“If our mayor can honor a contract for parking meters, he can also honor the constitutional provision of retirement security,” Lewis said. “And if he cannot, then maybe it’s time we send him into an early retirement.”

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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