Chicago Teachers Union delegates voted Wednesday night to cancel upcoming elections after no one stepped forward to challenge president Karen Lewis, who automatically keeps her office for a third term.
The move was billed as a money-saver, CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said, to spare members the $300,000 cost of elections in May that would merely have confirmed existing union leaders. The idea was floated at Wednesday night’s meeting of the House of Delegates, and then approved after no challengers appeared, Gadlin said.
Just one CTU member had circulated petitions to challenge the charismatic leader, who had just led a one-day strike last Friday, but failed to secure enough signatures. She was not part of any slate.
Along with Lewis, vice president Jesse Sharkey and recording secretary Michael Brunson also will continue in the leadership roles they’ve had since 2010. The fourth officer, Kristine Mayle, told the Chicago Sun-Times months ago she would not seek a third term as financial secretary.
Speech pathologist Maria Moreno, also a member of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, or CORE, will take Mayle’s place.
“My vision of the union is that it continues to encourage active participation of its members in the fight for our profession and the education our students deserve,” Moreno said in a statement. “The union must also continue establishing strong partnerships among parents, students, communities and labor organizations in our efforts to defend high quality, equitable public education for all students and address the social justice issues that hurt the people we serve as educators.”
Lewis, who came back to work after a brain cancer diagnosis in October 2014, took an offer she considered “serious” to her 40-member big bargaining team in January, but they promptly and unanimously shot it down.
And when she asked the House of Delegates last month to walk out on April 1 in an unprecedented one-day strike over unfair labor practices and inadequate state funding, they consented 486-124, which was more than 2/3 but hardly the overwhelming mandate typical of the CTU.
“I have no idea why nobody ran,” Lewis said Thursday. “Perhaps because they didn’t want to come in the middle of negotiations?”
People trust the current leadership, said Sarah Chambers, a teacher and CORE member.
“Our members see us as a fighting social justice union that is fighting for all the teachers’ rights and students’ rights,” she said.
“CORE and CTU have created a movement in this city with a broad coalition of community organization,” she continued, saying that the union has “dethroned” Mayor Rahm Emanuel and gained power in Springfield, too, through candidates it has supported.
Nominating petitions were due last week. The CTU declined to say then who if anyone filed to challenge Lewis and her team, saying the House of Delegates would have to be told first.
CTU elections were scheduled to take place on May 20, just days after the union could legally launch a contract strike. Their cancellation will surely free up time and energy for CTU leadership still mired in an ongoing bargaining process.
Sharkey insisted elections had nothing to do with bargaining progress. Last month, he told the Sun-Times right before that vote that, “everyone is very united. We want a fair contract. We need revenue to get it.”
Negotiations currently sit in the hands of a fact-finder. His report will be made public later this month, and if both Board of Education and union approve, his recommendations will become the new contract to replace the one that expired in June.