Fresh out of a standoff with the city, where some 25,000 Chicago teachers failed to show up in their classrooms, the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union has another fight to fight, this one within its own ranks.
the members first last Tuesday began actively calling on members to overthrow President Jesse Sharkey and Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, who are part of the “CORE” (Grassroots Educators Caucus) caucus in power since 2010.
There have been intermittent challenges from a members-first education coalition, but that competition is heating up for the election scheduled for May 21, with members-first hiring a campaign manager professional and launching a digitally produced ad.
“For us, having a union is essential. But that’s just not what we have today. Current CTU leadership sees work stoppages and strikes as the first step, not the last. They are much more focused on being on camera and advancing their own political careers than delivering for us,” the narrator states in the video.
It’s a not-so-veiled reference to Davis Gates, whose name comes up frequently as a candidate for mayor.
Asked about her political aspirations earlier this month on “Chicago Tonight,” Davis Gates didn’t rule it out and said Tuesday she remained focused on her two current jobs: being a mother to three CPS students and serving the union members. in his role at CTU.
She also referenced a former CTU leader who had often been mentioned as a candidate for mayor, the late Karen Lewis, who was the leader of CORE until a battle with cancer forced her to retire. retire in 2014.
“There were voters who believed that her visionary, bold, and loving leadership could lead the city of Chicago the same way she led our union. It’s an honor,” said Davis Gates. “May the leadership that emerges from our union be desired by those who have benefited from the work of our union.
She also said she was proud of “the footprint our members have left in changing and transforming the political discourse in Chicago that is unparalleled. Our union has become an anchor in progressive politics in the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois.
Among those victories, Davis Gates listed helping secure a moratorium on school closures, filling gaps during the pandemic with self-help efforts, brokering resources for homeless youth (60% of whom are black) and a contract that will put nurses in each school.
Much, but not all, of those efforts were won after tense and bitter clashes with the mayor’s office, including strikes or labor actions that led to the school being canceled each of the three last years.
There is no love lost between CTU and the mayor; Gates recently said that Lightfoot was on a “kamikaze mission” to destroy the CPS.
See: CTU rank-and-file members vote on new COVID-19 mitigation measures
Those who seek to take control of CTU say they oppose this combative style.
“As teachers, we should be able to teach our students by example how we find solutions, without attacking others, without using harmful rhetoric,” said Froylan “Froy” Jiménez, professor of civic education at CPS and member list candidate first. “This job was a noble job that people saw as a solution-markers, people who taught our youth. I would like to come back to that.
Caucus presidential candidate Mary Esposito-Usterbowski, who was an elementary school teacher and is now a district-level psychologist for the CPS, has often emphasized “collaboration.”
“We have to work together with all parties. Parents need a place at the table. We must work together to improve learning conditions for children and working conditions for our members. Because if the working conditions of our members are good, we know that it has a direct impact on the learning of our students,” she said.
Asked if this spirit of collaboration should extend to the mayor’s office, Esposito-Usterbowski said “our goal is to work collaboratively with all stakeholders.”
Esposito-Usterbowski is a member of the House of Delegates, CTU’s board of directors; she was elected three years ago as part of the Members First caucus.
She praised CTU’s current contract safeguards, but isn’t happy with this month’s COVID-19 safety work stoppage and its end result.
At this point, although this may change, teachers will not be paid for the four days of school missed.
“Our teachers have to fight for whatever they need, and members shouldn’t have to take four days off to put basic safety measures in place,” Esposito-Usterbowski said.
She said Members First is dedicated to transparency.
Unions are not subject to the same campaign contribution disclosure laws as candidates for public office, so it is difficult to gauge financial support.
Union rules, still being finalized for this cycle, require donations only from CTU members – no non-members can donate cash or in-kind contributions.
Davis-Gates called the challenge an “inter-team scrimmage.”
“We’re all on the same team and we’ll all be on the same team because it’s our union,” she said.
While union members will exclusively decide who leads CTU, the results are sure to impact all of Chicago, especially families with school-aged students.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @amandavinicky