With no opposition, CTU cancels election and gives Lewis an automatic third term

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File photo of Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis during a February 2016 rally.

Photo by Max Herman

File photo of Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis during a February 2016 rally.

For the first time in at least two decades, the Chicago Teachers Union won’t have an election — because no one has filed to challenge popular CTU President Karen Lewis.

With no opposition against Lewis or any other candidates from the ruling Caucus Of Rank-and-file Educators (CORE) for the upcoming May elections, the slate was effectively granted another three-year term and the election has been cancelled.

Observers say the lack of organized opposition demonstrates members’ support for Lewis and her left-of-center caucus, which has taken on a broader “social justice” agenda and garnered support from activists outside the education sphere for last week’s “Day of Action.” The lack of opponents also legitimizes Lewis and CORE’s leadership at a time of contentious contract negotiations with the Board of Education, which encouraged teachers to break ranks for the Day of Action, a one-day strike.

“If you’re not being challenged, it typically signifies that there just isn’t any grassroots support for an alternative set of candidates,” says Robert Bruno, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s School of Labor and Employment Relations who co-authored a forthcoming book about the 2012 CTU strike. “People are pleased with the direction that the union is going in.”

He added that Lewis, who battled with brain cancer last year but is back to work full time, is an inspiring and almost heroic leader to the rank and file. “Whether you agree with everything that she might support or say publicly, it’s hard not to be deeply moved by the level of personal investment,” he said. “People still need leaders. Organizations need strong leaders.”

In addition to Lewis, two of the union’s three other officers will return for a third term: Vice President Jesse Sharkey and Recording Secretary Michael Brunson. Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle had previously announced that she would not seek a third term, citing personal reasons. In her stead, CORE nominated Maria Moreno, a speech pathologist who has worked for the district for 14 years.

Nominating petitions — which had to include signatures from 5 percent of members — were due last week. But only CORE members filed the necessary paperwork to run for the positions of officers, area vice presidents or trustees. On Wednesday, the union’s House of Delegates voted to cancel the elections, meaning all those who filed to run for any position automatically won.

The lack of a union election will save CTU leadership time and energy during ongoing contract talks and the build-up to a potential general strike. A fact-finder is currently reviewing the most recent contract proposals from both sides and is expected to issue recommendations by April 16.

Sarah Chambers, an active CORE member who was automatically elected to the union’s executive board as an elementary teacher functional vice president, says nobody organized to run against the current leadership because “our membership trusts the leaders of the union. They trust Karen and Jesse.”

She adds: “They see we’re a fighting union. If you look around the country, there’s a lot of unions that are collaborationists. They collaborate with the boss instead of fighting back for what the members deserve.”

Opposition caucuses have disappeared

When CORE won its first election in 2010, there were four other caucuses running, including incumbent President Marilyn Stewart’s United Progressive Caucus (UPC) and former President Deborah Lynch’s Proactive Chicago Teachers (PACT).

In 2013, just one slate ran against CORE. The Coalition to Save Our Union — which included members of UPC and PACT — pledged to focus more on member services and rebuild the union’s bridges with district management. Lewis won re-reelection by a near four-to-one margin.

Since then, organized opposition to CORE within the union has largely fizzled out. In part that’s because many members who were previously involved in CTU politics with other caucuses have retired or otherwise left CPS.

Ted Dallas, a former vice president under Stewart who helped form a new caucus after he was pushed out of the UPC in 2010, says he’s surprised by how quiet House of Delegates meetings have become. Dallas, who is now retired, goes to meetings sometimes and sits in the visitors section.

“Nobody gets up and says anything negative. It’s kind of weird,” he says. “In all my years, there were a lot of unhappy people all the time. No matter how good a contract could be, somebody wasn’t happy.”

Dallas questions CORE’s political strategy and says he wishes CTU leaders focused more on direct member services — like benefits, working conditions and job security — instead of attacking the mayor.

“We never bashed any mayor,” he says. “Who we bashed was the Board of Ed. We actually worked with these people. I’m not saying we were like buddies. When we were behind closed doors, yelling, screaming, cussing, maybe almost coming to a fight. But I think that these guys have no relationship with the Board people and I think that’s part of the problem.”

Rosita Chatonda, a former teacher, CORE member and union organizer, tried to recruit disenchanted union members to organize a slate against CORE this year.  But few were interested.

“At this point nobody wants to run the union anymore,” she says. “The union has no negotiating power. Because of SB 7, if you became union president you would get onto a sinking ship.”

Senate Bill 7, signed into law in 2011, curbed tenure rights for teachers and made it easier for school districts to fire teachers with poor evaluations. The law also makes it harder for teachers unions to go on strike.

George Schmidt, a longtime union activist who helped start CORE, says he expects there will be organized opposition to the union leadership by the next time union elections role around — in 2019.

Some of that opposition may even come from current caucus members who disagree with the leadership’s strategies and focus, adds Schmidt, who publishes Substance News. That didn’t happen this time around, though, in large part because of the contentious contract negotiations and broader political fights in the state.

“We’re in a war,” he says. “We’ve got to stick together even when we have disagreements.”

  • Rosita Chatonda

    This is basically what I said to the reporter. Not that there was no interest in running.
    The CTU is a shell of what it was and there is nothing to win for teachers only union officials. We advocate for teachers and our own community schools , with or without pay.

    I got a call from an education reporter yesterday to ask why the
    Chicago Teachers Union CORE caucus , under Karen Lewis was running
    unopposed in the May election. As you know we have a forming caucus of
    the Chicago Teachers Union and considered a run in May. The Upc Ctu
    Jackie Vaughn and Marilyn Stewart’s caucus, ,the most powerful caucus
    of the CTU that has controlled the union since it’s inception and ran in
    every single election decided to back out. Others caucuses decided not
    to run for various reasons. Many stated that mainly because the Lewis
    team has completely destroyed the infrastructure by giving major
    concessions to Rham Emanuel during negotiations sessions and signing off
    on union busting legislation that stripped the CTU of almost all of
    it’s bargaining power, leaving teachers defenseless and only maintaining the ability to strike as an option to negotiate.

    Because my
    organization, Chicago Alliance of Urban School Educators, C.A. U.S.E.
    helps to strengthen and protect schools, advocate for teachers who have
    lost jobs and create programs like Teach For South Shore within the
    African American community, we decided that spending money and resources
    and time to challenge a union who has neglected it’s membership to
    parade around gaining public support and dumping millions into failed
    political campaigns isn’t worth our time and effort.

    AS for the
    other caucuses, I talked with the leadership and they have stated a
    similar position as to why no one wants the CTU but CORE because they
    have literally eroded the ability for CTU to effectively protect it’s
    members. Also, because of SB7 the bill that CORE, Lewis AND RHAM
    EMANUEL signed off on to disenfranchise veteran minority teachers, even
    giving up their seniority in economic layoffs.Therefore making it
    possible to fire a veteran teachers with the subjective evaluation tool
    Lewis also agreed to that allows a principal to terminate veterans who
    are at the top of the pay scale without due process. There are so many
    more things given up. Even the Longer School Day with NO PAY. That cuts
    teacher salary by 1/4 because they must work 8 instead of 6 hours
    daily. These are all thing Lewis delivered to Rham Emanuel without a
    fight and without approval of her House of Delegates.

    They also
    stated a concern that we share regarding 10,000 African American dues
    paying members have lost their jobs and careers due to racial profiling.
    The CTU parades dumping millions into failed political campaigns and 1
    day strikes that can yield no results for teachers. It can yield no
    results because the CORE caucus under Karen Lewis has stripped the union
    of any negotiating and bargaining power when they signed onto the union
    busting bill Senate Bill 7 which stripped the union of all of it’s
    power to negotiate on behalf of teachers in 2011. Left only with the
    right to strike so they can beg to get back some of what was lost by
    their foolish and selfish maneuvering and lack of care for their
    members, they are left with few options., One strategy is to parade
    around, destabilizing “at risk” minorities communities, threatening
    teachers who are smart enough not to drink the poisonous Kool Aide and
    clearing the way for more teachers who are non African Americans to
    prepare to take the jobs of hard working Black teachers in inner city
    schools. The strategy left for Core is also to pave the way, with
    strikes and parades around buildings so the CORE/CTU to try to get
    themselves in a nice political position before the hammer falls on the
    ill fated CTU. We do not want to be blamed for the mess they have
    created. Let them stew in their own mess. Lastly, teachers be careful what you pray for, you just might get it

    • Northside

      It didn’t disenfranchise just minority. Un my school I’m one of a few white males over 50 and I almost lost my job until I won appeal with my principal. She was upset…but I was happy. Reach is just a way for some pincipals to legitimize their personal biases by crafty number games. My principal did it ..even though she claims she followed the rules…I don’t belive her at all.

      • Rosita Chatonda

        The Reach evaluation was accepted by CTU and has been used as a tool to totally disenfranchise veteran teachers. You are blessed to have won by appeal. That doesn’t happen with Black teachers. They rarely win at all. Read this about a teachers who did win.

        DID IT PRO SE!

        I am so very proud of my teacher friend, Joyce
        Hutchens. I have known her through a mutual friend who introduced us 8
        years ago. I heard her story of how she was fired, lied on and attacked
        by her employer Chicago Public Schools for basically being a veteran
        Black teacher. Joyce had a case very much like my own. Little did I know
        that I would be in the same position, facing the 73 corrupt lawyers at
        CPS the following year. Joyce a stellar Nationally Board Certified
        Teacher won her case without the help of the Chicago Teachers Union and
        CORRUPT ATTORNEY’S AT CPS . HOOORAY!!!!! Joyce’s win is so important
        because it exonerates her and all the Black teachers that CPS has lied
        on and our union has thrown to the wolves. Thanks to Joyce for hanging
        in there for all of us.

        Please spend $20.00 teachers and everyone to get this book .


        Saturday April 16, , 2016 1 to 8 p.m.
        1235 South Prairie 5th floor Community Room
        RSVP to joyce.hutchens@att.net


        • Northside

          I know…the ctu unsat reach meeting was 90 percent over 35 or more. And like half black. I know…it’s all bs…wish I could help others especially for aa. Teachers . Makes me want to be a lawyer and help the disenfranchised. ..ctu agreed on reach..but assumed principals would be honest ..I thought ctu was going to make a case against racial bias. This all stems from Obama and Duncan and rahm…complete bs

  • Craig Cleve

    The headline bugs me. It is factually correct. But in 2016, there is nothing automatic about getting a candidate on a ballot. CORE members (of which there are just over 200) managed to secure more than 2,600 signatures from a diverse group of CTU members — teachers, teacher assistants, clinicians, nurses, psychologists, counselors, case managers, etc. — just to get Lewis, Sharkey, Brunson, Maria Moreno, members of the CTU Executive Board, and more than 150 delegates and alternates to the AFT/IFT Convention on the ballot.
    There WAS an opposition group this time around. They were present at multiple CTU events this Winter and Spring, but they were unsuccessful in securing the necessary number of signatures to appear on the ballot. CORE has evolved over the six-plus years of its existence into a well-oiled, political machine. And although there will always be opposition — in policy decisions, statements, and ideologies — true political opposition is earned. It’s why CORE came to be in the first place.

    • Rosita Chatonda

      CORE is a political group ran by a socialist /communist movement to over
      through the status quo. They changed the focus from service to teachers
      organizing for political purposes in 2010. They spent millions on
      failed political maneuvers and nothing for dues paying members. We are
      an opposition caucus but decided not to run because of the damage done
      under SB7, that left the CTU with little power to defend their members.
      This bill was union busting bill was signed by CORE and Lewis in 2010.
      THe CTU is a cash cow for CORE’S political slush fund.

      • Craig Cleve

        I really don’t know where to begin here:

        1). So you DID get the required number of signatures, but you chose NOT to
        run because of a Bill that was signed in 2010?;

        2). CTU members contribute to the PAC, or political action committee, to which
        members can donate cash amounts or have a set amount deducted from their
        monthly pay. I contribute $20/month. Many members contribute $5. Many
        more don’t contribute at all. I don’t think it’s EVER contained $1,000,000.

        3) The PAC is used for CTU’s political purposes and is not a discretionary fund
        used by CORE. Get your facts straight or people will think you’re a crackpot;

        4). CORE contains some members who are socialists. I am an elected member of
        the CORE Steering Committee. I am not a socialist, and I don’t think it’s

        • Rosita Chatonda

          Let’s examine what you said and what I actually said here. First YOU asked, did We get the required number of signatures. As I sit here staring at the petitions, the answer is that during the process of getting signatures our mentor organizer was killed. It was such a shock and this person was key to us having sucees so we had to stop to deal with all that goes with that. Secondly I am very fmiliar with PAC money and also know that it has never been used to run a group of inexperienced teachers to run against seasoned politicians. The AFT under Lewis”s direction gave 1 million to defeat Chug. What a waste when 180.000 African. American teachers have been terminated nationwise and they have done nothing. So it’s not me that needs to get my facts straight it’s you. CTU is the local arm of AFT in which Karen is the VP I see the UPC caucus. That’s why those Black CORE members who worked like he’ll to get Lewis elected were treated like second class humans. They didn’t need Black CORE teachers when they had Black UPC PSRP”s . As far as you being on the CORE steering, just a reminder that all the Black orginal CORE members are gone and have been attacked by the racist socialist there.

          • Craig Cleve

            1. I’m sincerely sorry for your loss;
            2. So you didn’t run a slate because a). you lost a key member to tragic
            circumstances; b) you didn’t get enough signatures, or; c). SB7?
            3. CTU PAC gave money to Sue Garza, a school conselor in CPS, who is
            now the alderwoman of the 10th ward. Thanks, CTU;
            4. It’s it spelled “Chug” or “Chuy”?;
            5. Didn’t CTU try to get Chuy elected? Or was I collecting sigs for someone
            6. I chair the CORE membership committee. Among my jobs is maintaining
            the membership rolls for CORE and signing in all members at our
            meetings. My educated estimate is that about 35-40% of CORE members
            are Black. Who got pushed out again?

  • Joe W

    Lewis is to Chicago what Madigan is to the State of Illinois. STATUS QUO. Change nothing and cripple the taxpayers with unsustainable public pensions while racking up debt that will never be paid. I’m sure she’s happy to stay on. She gets around a quarter of a million bucks each year in total compensation. Who won’t.