Quick-to-strike leaders need to be replaced, Chicago Teachers Union members say

Quick-to-strike leaders need to be replaced, Chicago Teachers Union members say

The Members First Caucus said the current Chicago Teachers Union leaders see “work stoppages and strikes as the first step, and not the last one.” They want less political activism and more focus on delivering for members and students.

Chicago Teachers Union members are calling for a new president and vice president in the organization’s upcoming spring election, saying leadership “sees work stoppages and strikes as the first step, and not the last one” when it comes to working with Chicago Public Schools.

The Members First Caucus of the CTU contends the current leaders secured members “a couple of KN95 masks for four days of lost pay” during remote action taken earlier this month. Chicago students were out of school for five days at the start of January when union leaders told members to stay home over COVID-19 demands.

The caucus’ campaign video goes on to claim that union President Jesse Sharkey and Vice President Stacey Davis Gates “are far more focused on advancing their own political careers than delivering for us.” The caucus members are now pushing for those leaders to be voted out of power on May 20.

Both Sharkey and Gates have defended union leadership’s work on the safety agreement reached with CPS and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“This leadership has advocated for good quality public schools for students and the people who work in them,” Sharkey told Playbook. “It’s been difficult working with this mayor and the previous one, who are poor listeners. We’re proud of our advocacy.”

Gates echoed the sentiment in an interview Monday, saying union leadership was working hard to implement the safety agreement and her priority now was students’ safe return to the classroom. She did not rule out a rumored mayoral run against Lightfoot in 2023.

Mary Esposito-Usterbowski is a citywide school psychologist and the Members First candidate challenging Sharkey for leadership. She disagreed, saying leadership was “reactive” in addressing issues facing students and union members and could be doing more.

“CTU can better serve its members by being proactive and not reactive. We must focus on member needs, providing transparency and clear communication, ensuring that members have the resources they need to do their jobs effectively and guaranteeing safety of all staff and students,” Esposito-Usterbowski said in a statement.

The Members First campaign also pointed to how current CTU leadership loaned out millions of dollars of union members’ dues to parties, including to political candidates, without recouping those debts. The caucus said CTU had $8.8 million in cash reserves seven years ago, but now it has none.

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