A powerful alderman is paying a price for warning last week that Chicago’s first teachers strike in 25 years was “inevitable” because of the belligerent attitude of Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, said teachers picketed her aldermanic office on Day One of the strike. furious that Austin had dared to speak out against Lewis.
“The teachers union is pissed off. They picketed my office. My statement infuriated them, but I still stand by it,” Austin said.
“I think that’s what got ’em because I didn’t say anything about the mayor or about Jean-Claude [Brizard, schools CEO]. Well, they were never at the table.”
Pressed on whether she still believes Lewis was “hell-bent” on a strike, Austin said, “I believed it at the time and I still do….It [the strike] has happened.”
Is Austin worried about losing support from the teachers in her ward?
“No, because people have a right to protest. They have a right to picket me if they believe the statement I have made is untrue or they don’t agree with whatever statements I have made,” she sid.
“I’m not angry with them [but] I still stand by it.”
Asked why she believes Lewis wanted a strike, Austin said, “To position herself to be able to negotiate from a stronger position.”
While attending the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last week, Austin declared a teachers strike “inevitable,” warned parents to prepare for it and laid the blame squarely on Lewis.
“They’ve already decided this is what they’re going to do. I think they want to” strike, Austin said after an Il. Delegation breakfast hosted by the Chicago Federation of Labor.
“Karen Lewis, their president, says they want to. [She’s essentially saying], `I’m gonna show you.’ That’s what she projects….They don’t want to talk. They don’t want to negotiate. Not them–her. I don’t believe she wants to talk. That’s unfair to our children because education has to be more important than you getting an additional 2 percent.”
On Tuesday, Austin sided with the mayor on the two biggest roadblock to a strike: teacher evaluations and teacher recall.
“I was able to pick my own team. The president picks his. The mayor and any other CEO. I look at a principal as being” a CEO, the alderman said.
“I’ve got dynamite principals. Why should not they be alllowed to chose teachers they believe are gonna be a benefit to the school for the children? That has to be the main focus. Maybe you’re a math teacher but you’re not teaching at a level that I want my kids to excel up to. Let me go get this [other] teacher. Maybe they can do that for me. That doesn’t mean that teacher is out of a job. Because they will be able to recycle them. If that’s unfair then I guess that’s unfair.”