Standing ovation for retired President Karen Lewis—and overwhelming support for new leadership team that has stewarded union in wake of Lewis’ illness.
CHICAGO, September 5, 2018—The CTU House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly this evening to replace retired President Karen Lewis with her slate’s vice president, Jesse Sharkey, who has led the union in recent years as Lewis battles illness. The HOD also overwhelmingly voted to fill Sharkey’s newly vacated vice president’s seat with CTU Political Director Stacy Davis Gates.
“I bleed CTU red, I truly do,” said Sharkey as he took the gavel for the first time as President, to the cheers of delegates.
“It has been the greatest honor of my life to work with Karen as a colleague and a partner in our battle for educational justice for our students and for the rights and dignity of our 27,000 members,” said Sharkey. “For the last eight years, this union under our leadership has put the lie to Rahm Emanuel’s austerity agenda and his disrespect for our educators and the students they serve. Rahm is on his way out because this union led the way in battling his toxic agenda. I’m honored to formally carry the flag as President of this union, to advance our groundbreaking brand of progressive unionism. Our unity gives us the power to continue to build our larger movement for educational justice, and take back our city from those who seek to serve only the 1%.”
Davis Gates, who taught for twelve years before assuming the role of CTU political director, has guided the CTU’s legislative and political agenda at a time when the union has made unprecedented gains in the electoral sector. That includes the elections of CTU members to seats in the City Council, the State House of Representatives and the Cook County Board of Commissioners, as well battling Emanuel to an unprecedented run-off four years ago.
When we fight, we win,” said Davis Gates. “The boss quit yesterday. That’s a testament to this leadership and this union. Chicago owes Karen Lewis a debt. She gave us the courage to fight back and demand respect, equity and justice. We don’t get a fighting union and a community coalition of the willing without her leadership. Our enemies—billionaires like Bruce Rauner who don’t want to pay their fair share and neoliberal charlatans like Rahm Emanuel—want to end our fight for racial, economic, social and educational justice. They’ve tried and failed. Post-Janus our membership is stronger and more resolute. Our membership is committed, organized, and a fighting rank-and-file that will continue to fight and win.
The CTU’s historic 2012 strike and running battle against the mayor’s austerity-driven school budgets and school privatization schemes has helped inspire a new wave of union activism and resistance, particularly among educators in some of the nation’s most politically conservative states. The CTU is currently gearing up for a contract fight on behalf of CTU educators in CPS-run schools, as well as ongoing contract fights in the union’s charter division, which represents union educators in 34 charter schools. Those charter fights are building to the possibility of one or more strikes against charter operators—possibly as early as this October—in what would represent the first strike against one or more charter operators in the history of the United States.