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Chicago Teachers Union leadership retains power, despite growing opposition

A woman speaks to reporters in front of a Chicago Public School building on the South Side.

Stacy Davis Gates Gates will replace Jesse Sharkey as Chicago Teachers Union president after CORE won 56% of the vote in Friday’s union election.

Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago

After a contentious run-up to the election, the incumbent leadership group known as Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) will retain power over the Chicago Teachers Union for another three years, defeating two slates who looked to unseat the group that has steered the union for over a decade.

CORE avoided a runoff election by winning 56% of the vote, the Chicago Teachers Union announced early Saturday morning.  Challenger group Members First earned 27%, and the slate Respect, Educate, Advocate, and Lead, or REAL, received 17% of the vote.

In a statement to rank-and-file members, outgoing president Jesse Sharkey acknowledged the extremely challenging three years for members, who have gone through an 11-day strike, the ongoing pandemic, and “two brutal school reopening campaigns to protect your safety and that of your school communities.”

“This particular election saw competing visions from three slates vying for leadership of our union,” Sharkey said, who acknowledged the heated debates running up to the election. “It is time for us to come together for healing, and the solidarity that anchor our strength.”

Stacy Davis Gates will replace Sharkey, who announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election. Other officers are Jackson Potter, vice president, Maria Morena, chief financial secretary, and Christel Williams-Hayes, recording secretary. CORE was first elected in 2010.

Gates will lead the union as the district continues to navigate the fallout from the pandemic. The upcoming mayoral election and transition to an elected school board is on the horizon and could see the union leaders exercising their political muscle. 

The period leading to the union election has been tense. Union leadership sued a former advisor to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Lisa Schneider Fabes, arguing that a social media campaign backing Members First amounted to illegal outside meddling.  

During the election, Members First criticized current leadership for overreaching on social issues not directly connected to the classroom instead of staying focused on more traditional concerns such as prep time and compensation. Members First also said the union was too quick to strike in January, pointing to a standoff with the mayor’s office that produced modest changes to safety protocols amid the omicron surge.

REAL also criticized the handling of the strike. They argued that current leadership was  disconnected from rank-and-file members and spent too much money supporting political candidates without giving members a full accounting. 

Throughout the pandemic, CORE leadership has pushed the district to adopt strict safety strategies. A call for an agreement came to a head in January when teachers voted to walk out and teach remotely over safety concerns. The district canceled classes and locked teachers out of remote instruction software during the standoff.

CORE leadership has criticized the district’s proposed budget cuts for the upcoming years, saying Chicago Public Schools should be pouring more resources to schools that are still dealing with pandemic fallout. 

Winners in the election will serve three-year terms that begin July 1 and end June 30, 2025.

Mauricio Peña is a reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering K-12 schools. Contact Mauricio at mpena@chalkbeat.org.

Mila Koumpilova is Chalkbeat Chicago’s senior reporter covering Chicago Public Schools. Contact Mila at mkoumpilova@chalkbeat.org.

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