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Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, speaks outside the Chicago board of education meeting on  Jan. 23, 2019.

Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, speaks outside the Chicago board of education meeting on Jan. 23, 2019.

Chicago teachers union leadership retains power, despite vocal challenger

The incumbent leadership group known as the Caucus of Rank and File Educators will retain control of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, despite a challenge from a vocal group that promised it would redirect union attention back to “bread-and-butter” concerns.

Results announced shortly before midnight Friday showed the current leadership winning 66% of the vote, versus 34% for a rival slate.

“I am proud of our union, and honored to be elected as president,” winner Jesse Sharkey said in an emailed statement. Since the slate won power in 2010, he wrote, “we have done our utmost to build a strong, democratic movement for educational justice — the CTU sees dignity and respect on the job as going hand in hand with social, racial, and economic justice for our students, and we are committed to fight for the rights of every member and every student in Chicago.”

Sharkey’s caucus beat out challengers who argued that the union’s social justice pursuits had directed attention away from daily work concerns like pay. The union has taken on racial inequality in the labor force, argued for social supports in schools, and given millions of dollars to progressive political candidates.

Besides Sharkey, other officers are Stacy Davis Gates, vice president; Maria Morena, chief financial secretary, who led the union’s efforts to re-card members in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision; and Christel Williams-Hayes, recording secretary.

During the campaign, challengers known as Members First, led by school psychologist Therese Boyle, also raised questions about the union’s financial management, particularly the cost to build its current headquarters while still paying rent on its former building.

With its teachers contract expiring June 30, the union has been in negotiations with City Hall. Starting Monday, the group will negotiate with a new mayor, Lori Lightfoot.  

Lightfoot unveiled her priorities for schools at a breakfast Friday.

Next week the union will hold a rally to re-up some of its contract demands to the city: a restorative justice counselor and librarian in every school, 1,000 additional teacher assistants in elementary school and high schools and increases in social workers, nurses, counselors, case managers, school psychologists. It also wants the district to fill more than 300 special education teacher vacancies.

But those demands may be more complicated as Lightfoot recently announced the city is in a deeper budget hole than previously understood.