Chicago mayor: Teachers union made us a ‘laughingstock’

Chicago is the nation’s largest district to shut, and the one main one shuttered by a labor dispute.

It’s unclear if the union’s transfer will encourage educators elsewhere to observe go well with as they see their very own members catch the virus, which has already triggered smaller shutdowns. However many elected Democrats throughout the nation who backed closures early within the pandemic are insisting that Okay-12 faculties should keep open throughout the Omicron surge — a repositioning that has created friction with academics unions, a key occasion constituency.

For now, the hard-nosed academics unions in New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Sacramento aren’t demanding college closures the way in which Chicago educators are. The highly effective California Teachers Affiliation issued a assertion with Gov. Gavin Newsom final month pledging to “preserve our lecture rooms open” in a state the place campuses had been shut by the pandemic longer than nearly wherever within the nation. Democratic leaders, from President Joe Biden to New York Metropolis Mayor Eric Adams, are giving better voice to the social and educational woes suffered by college students studying at dwelling — and recognizing that folks have little endurance for reverting again to on-line lessons.

The Chicago tensions are notably uncooked for Lightfoot, a sharp-tongued reform Democrat who ran on a pledge in 2019 to problem the occasion’s political machine, which leans closely on labor teams. She additionally doesn’t undergo niceties, and values directness from her allies and critics.

When a public-records request revealed final month how she recurrently zapped her workers and critics by e mail, the town’s voters and political class barely blinked. Even allies are used to the mayor’s tone. “The mayor and I’ve at all times had a bluntly sincere working relationship,” Alderman Brendan Reilly mentioned in an interview on the time.

However to a few of those that work or negotiate along with her, Lightfoot’s frankness has made her dealings with CTU — a group that additionally vexed her predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, at instances — unmanageable.

And through a Wednesday evening press convention, Lightfoot, a former prosecutor, did what Chicagoans have come to anticipate: She dug in.

“I cannot permit them to take our youngsters hostage,” she mentioned of the academics union. Her concern facilities on the numerous CPS college students who come from underserved communities the place entry to the web or pc gadgets isn’t at all times accessible and whose households depend on kids getting two or three meals a day at college.

Teachers, who had been imagined to return to the classroom Wednesday, are involved about security after quite a few experiences of post-holiday Covid testing gone awry and photographs of FedEx drop containers overflowing with packages of assessments.

And union officers have blamed the mayor for the standstill that’s maintaining metropolis’s roughly 330,000 public college college students from their lecture rooms.

“Lightfoot’s administration has been an enemy to public schooling right here in Chicago,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates mentioned in an interview Wednesday.

However even a few of Lightfoot’s staunchest critics are siding along with her about maintaining faculties open.

“I don’t assume CTU will give Lightfoot an inch even when she gave them every part they needed,” Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez, who has chided the mayor on every part from public security to emergency powers, mentioned in an interview. “They’re on a mission to be obstructionists to this administration in a approach that places me to disgrace. I can acknowledge when she does one thing proper, and so they refuse to do even that.”

Since her landslide election over the CTU’s favored progressive candidate almost three years in the past, Lightfoot has discovered herself at odds with the academics union at each flip. There was a 14-day strike throughout her first yr in workplace, adopted by fixed disagreements over tips on how to preserve college students in class when the pandemic broke out in 2020.

CTU and Lightfoot’s administration have been negotiating for months with little to point out for it.

“Anyone who believes this academics union is merely a union hasn’t been paying consideration,” Lightfoot instructed POLITICO. “They imagine themselves to be a political motion or political occasion and that’s the lens by which we now have to view each certainly one of their actions.”

And through her Wednesday evening press convention, the mayor mentioned academics who didn’t return to their lecture rooms Friday wouldn’t be paid.

“We won’t pay you to desert your posts, and your kids at a time once they and their households want us most,” she mentioned. “It won’t occur on my watch.”

Lightfoot mentioned “lots of of hundreds of thousands” of {dollars} have been spent on making Chicago faculties secure for college students and faculty workers throughout the pandemic. Air flow methods have been improved, and faculties have HEPA filters and masks and procedures in place for social distancing, she mentioned.

The academics union insists the enhancements don’t go far sufficient. Gates mentioned the town is withholding too many federal {dollars} — Chicago Public Colleges acquired about $2 billion in federal Covid reduction funding — that ought to be spent on faculties.

“I can not stress this sufficient: Now we have billions of {dollars} to assist us get by Covid that we don’t see in our college communities,” Gates mentioned. “We don’t see widespread testing. We don’t see vaccination clinics, particularly within the ZIP codes on this metropolis which have been struggling.”

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez acknowledged the town “agrees” that extra must be executed to beef up Covid testing. District officers mentioned Wednesday evening that they should prioritize assessments on symptomatic and unvaccinated college students given restricted provides.

Nonetheless, Lightfoot disagrees that the friction between her workplace and the academics union has something to do with politics or her management. She’s not the primary Chicago mayor, in any case, to butt heads with educators. There was a trainer strike throughout Emanuel’s time period, too.

“Anyone sitting on this seat, given who the CTU is, could be in the identical place that I’m. This isn’t about persona. That is about ego,” Lightfoot mentioned.

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