CHICAGO – Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis alleges Chicago’s schools are “broke on purpose,” and she’s marching the streets with her members demanding pay hikes and increased services heading into this summer’s union contract negotiations with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Thousands of CTU members took to Chicago’s LaSalle Street Wednesday with signs that read “Take the money from the banks!” and “The 1% owes us” as they chanted “this means war!” according to In These Times.
About 30,000 city teachers and school workers clad in red union t-shirts heard from president Karen Lewis, who focused her anger on Gov. Bruce Rauner and rallied around the union’s typical class warfare message.
“Who are the one set of people that could solve this problem by doing one thing, paying their fair share? There’s a person that lives in this town who could solve all of the pension fund crisis, not by reaching into his checkbook and taking food out of his children’s mouths, but just by paying his fair share of taxes,” Lewis said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The union rally comes as the district faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit for the upcoming school year – a stark financial reality that’s delaying negotiations. Chicago Public Schools is also mandated by the state to make a $634 million payment to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and the district has no money in the bank.
“Further hampering negotiations between the CTU and CPS is the district’s contention that Chicago teachers will need to accept a 7 percent pay cut along with increases in health insurance premiums,” IBT reports.
That’s why teachers are marching in the streets.
The CTU’s plan seems pretty obvious.
Union officials filed an unfair labor complaint against the CPS board for stalling on negotiations. The union alleges CPS manufactured its current financial crisis by investing in high-risk bonds and spending $20.5 million on a no-bid contract to train school principals, ITT reports.
That contract was awarded to former CPS superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s previous employer. Byrd-Bennett resigned this month as federal investigators are looking into the deal.
CPS’ current financial situation, and recent news of the apparently toxic deal at CPS headquarters, is renewing calls from CTU officials to tax transactions on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Options to help bail the district out. Lewis last year argued that such a transaction tax would generate $2 billion for CPS and $10 billion for the state, which the union would presumably want devoted to the teacher pension crisis.
Essentially, the CTU wants the city’s wealthy to fork over more money, and they’re using compelling examples from the classroom to get their point across.
“I didn’t get into teaching for the money,” West Englewood teacher Holly Charles told protesters, according to ITT. “I’m bringing toilet paper from home, having to mop my own floor,” she says. “There’s not enough money for janitors. But I bet if you head into any of the CPS headquarters, you’ll find toilet paper and clean floors there.”
“We will not stand for a school system in which our future is mortgaged, in which our classrooms are shortchanged, and in which teachers can’t do their jobs. . . . In which the schools are stripped for everything of value where the halls are dirty, where the classroom are unclean because Ken Griffin and Bruce Rauner and their billionaire friends don’t want to pay their taxes,” CTU VP Jesse Sharkey said, the Sun-Times reports.
Lewis is apparently trying to create a class warfare movement out of the CTU situation, though current negotiations are only over a one year extension and 3 percent raise.
“Sisters and brothers, the sea of red means something, not just in Chicago, not just nationwide, but worldwide,” Lewis said, according to the Sun-Times.
“You have to remember that what you’re fighting for is not just a fair contract. It is the history of fair contracts. And if we have a chance, this is it,” she said.