CTU's Karen Lewis: People don't always get everything they want in a contract

Teachers union head says teachers have made gains, and concessions.

September 18, 2012


The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates meets Tuesday afternoon to vote on whether to end the teachers strike, now in its seventh day.

Teachers have been scrutinizing the 180 pages of a new contract, under increasing pressure from parents and city leaders to return to the classroom.  More than 350,000 students have been out of school since last Monday. 

In a phone call with WBEZ's Morning Shift, CTU president Karen Lewis shared some of her thoughts on how delegate discussions are progressing.

Lewis addressed criticisms that, as the union’s leader, it is her responsibility to get teachers back to work as soon as possible. Calling the CTU a “member-driven union,” Lewis said, "We do take democracy seriously, and I know that’s frustrating for people, but in the end, it’s ultimately a better way to govern a union, because then it’s not top-down leadership."

"I think that we have encouraged healthy debate and we have encouraged analysis," Lewis said. "It was something that was never encouraged by union leadership before and I think people misinterpret that. It’s unusual and it’s a better way to move the union."

Lewis also said she believes teachers have made some gains, but she recognizes that in tough times concessions have to be made.

"This is an austerity contract. This is not a contract of we can get all that we want."

The strike has also been a drag on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's agenda and image. On Sunday, he said the city would seek legal means to force the teachers back into the classroom by asking for an injunction. 

On Monday, a Cook County judge delayed a hearing request for a temporary restraining order until Wednesday, giving the teachers union enough time to vote for the contract on Tuesday.

When asked about the injunction, Lewis said "if anything" the injunction hearing scheduled for Wednesday "will push people in the opposite direction." and that the "imposition of will from the mayor will have a deleterious effect."