Two disruptions in the city power dynamic leave the Chicago Teachers Union in unfamiliar, and interesting, territory. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last week that he won’t seek a third term and has yet to endorse an heir apparent. Meanwhile, the union — which rarely misses a chance to spar with the mayor — officially promoted Vice President Jesse Sharkey to the top job, as expected, to succeed the formidable negotiator Karen Lewis, who has brain cancer and retired early.
Chalkbeat Chicago spoke with Sharkey about entering contract negotiations this fall amid seismic shifts in City Hall. We also asked about his negotiating style, if he really failed to return messages from former federal prosecutor Maggie Hickey, and how he plans to rally membership post-Janus. Observers predict a blow to union membershipnationwide in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31.
This interview was edited and condensed for publication.
Rahm Emanuel announced he’s not seeking re-election the day before you were officially promoted to union chief. How does that change your approach to entering a contract year?
It raises certain questions about how contract negotiations are going to work. I will say this: In order to manage schools, you have to know a bunch of stuff about education. Right now, there is an administration in Chicago Public Schools – not that we don’t have disagreements with them, we do – but, frankly, (CEO Janice) Jackson’s administration is completely capable of beginning the work of hammering out a labor contract. When we get to the tactical questions about what working conditions should be like, we expect to be able to start negotiating with her administration and the Board of Education.
Obviously, toward the end, there’s going to be some broader questions about direction, and whoever the mayor is going to be is going to want to weigh in on them. But I expect to be able to begin and stay a timeline so we can get a contract landed by the time school starts next year.