Karen Lewis leads CTU rally amid teachers contract negotiations

SHARE Karen Lewis leads CTU rally amid teachers contract negotiations
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Chicago Teachers Union members march Tuesday evening outside City Hall in Chicago. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis issued a rallying pro-union cry to thousands downtown Tuesday evening, urging the 30,000 members to fight for equality and a “fair share” while negotiating a new contract.

“Sisters and brothers, the sea of red means something, not just in Chicago, not just nationwide, but worldwide,” Lewis told a cheering crowd, clad in red CTU teachers in front of the Thompson Center.

Lewis had one powerful figure to target during her speech: Gov. Bruce Rauner.

She said Rauner is trying to get rid of unions and called him out for shifting priorities in the wrong direction, citing funding cuts to autism and epilepsy services that he later reversed.

“Who are the one set of people that could solve this problem by doing one thing, paying their fair share? There’s a person that lives in this town who could solve all of the pension fund crisis, not by reaching into his checkbook and taking food out of his children’s mouths, but just by paying his fair share of taxes,” Lewis said.

Lewis said the CTU’s fight for a 3 percent raise and a new one-year contract isn’t just about a fair contract, it’s about preserving the power of unions in the state.

“You have to remember that what you’re fighting for is not just a fair contract. It is the history of fair contracts. And if we have a chance, this is it,” Lewis said.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey welcomed the crowd and also pointed the finger at Rauner.

“We will not stand for a school system in which our future is mortgaged, in which our classrooms are shortchanged, and in which teachers can’t do their jobs. . . . In which the schools are stripped for everything of value where the halls are dirty, where the classroom are unclean because Ken Griffin and Bruce Rauner and their billionaire friends don’t want to pay their taxes,” Sharkey said.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis speaks at a rally outside the Thompson Center on Tuesday evening. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

Lewis, who was exploring a mayoral run when she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in October, has been very active in the union’s negotiations, Sharkey told the Chicago Sun-Times after the rally.

“She’s been at pretty much every negotiation session so far,” Sharkey said.

Sharkey said the Board of Education has been unwilling to bargain on relief from standardized testing. The CTU also is seeking relief from paperwork and in terms of time that teachers have for preparation.

“We have the ability to communicate with the board. It’s not an issue of a breakdown. It’s just that there’s a set of things that require political will and commitment and funding is part of it,” Sharkey said.

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CTU members march through downtown Chicago on Tuesday evening. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

After the rally, thousands of CTU members took to La Salle Street, pausing outside City Hall while chanting, “Fair Contract Now.” The swarm of union workers then marched to the Chicago Board of Trade.

Vicki Kurzydlo, 47, a special education teacher at Sauganash Elementary School, was among the marchers. She said she’s looking for not only a fair and equitable contract, but a revenue solution.

“If the people who are running this city pay their fair share of taxes, it would close the gap in education and the deficit we’re facing,” said Kurzydlo, a 22-year veteran of CPS. “It has nothing to do with what teachers are doing now. It’s years and years of things that have been screwed up for years. What we’re really just fighting for is equity. The bottom line is it’s for our students.”

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