Union President Karen Lewis Calls Out Gov. Rauner, Rejects Latest School District Idea

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis answers a question from media after a news conference on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Chicago. The Chicago Teachers Union has voted approve a one day walkout on April 1, 2016.
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis answers a question from media after a news conference on Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Nam Y. Huh / AP
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis answers a question from media after a news conference on Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Chicago. The Chicago Teachers Union has voted approve a one day walkout on April 1, 2016.
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis answers a question from media after a news conference on Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Nam Y. Huh / AP

Union President Karen Lewis Calls Out Gov. Rauner, Rejects Latest School District Idea

Just hours before Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was to give a big speech at the City Club of Chicago, public school officials tried to steal some of the spotlight.

The school district released a letter to Lewis asking the union to engage in binding arbitration—a process in which an independent arbitrator considers both sides and creates a contract. The two sides agree beforehand to accept the proposal.

At the City Club, Lewis flatly rejected that idea. She called it a publicity stunt.

“There is no reason to do it,” she said. “We write our own contract. We have never done interest arbitration.”

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool noted in a letter to Lewis that the police officers and firefighters successfully used binding arbitration. But Lewis pointed out that police officers and firefighters have no ability to strike, whereas teachers do.

Lewis started her speech by answering the question on everyone’s mind: “Are the teachers moving toward a strike? Yes.”

She made her case that the only way to avoid a strike is for the district to get more sustainable revenue.

But Lewis used most of her speech to bash Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and take him to task for not getting a budget passed. She called Rauner an “ISIS recruit.”

“Has homeland security checked this man out yet?” she asked. “Because the things he is doing look like acts of terror against poor people.”

Lewis went through a long list of statistics, including how many children live in poverty and how many are in state custody. She also talked about the state grants being withheld from college students.

“This is not just statistical fodder—these numbers represent real people, real lives. We give tax breaks to the wealthy and give banks a pass, yet cut budgets that help poor, troubled children to bare bones?” she said.

Lewis received a standing ovation for her speech from some people in the audience, while others clapped politely. In the question and answer session, Lewis and her union faced some criticism.

Questions included: “Isn’t the reason the proposed settlement was rejected was not on content, but on ideology? Don’t you leave CPS no choice but to declare bankruptcy?

Lewis stood her ground. “No. We are not petulant little children. We may teach them, but we are not them. CPS could do a whole lot of things… things that we have been asking them to do for a whole long time. They choose not to do them.”

Sarah Karp is a reporter for WBEZ follow her @sskedreporter and @wbezeducation.