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Union head: Teachers ‘tired of billionaires telling us what ... to do’

Chicago Teachers UniPresident Karen Lewis speaks teachers rally UniPark Chicago Ill. Saturday September 15 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis speaks at a teachers rally at Union Park in Chicago, Ill., on Saturday, September 15, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 16, 2012 6:10PM



“We are still on strike,” teachers and their union president cried Saturday at a massive Chicago Teachers Union rally in Union Park, as negotiators hammered out the language of a possible contract a few miles away in the Loop.

Both sides say they’re inching closer to a deal that could return 350,000 Chicago Public School children to class Monday. Meanwhile, Lewis said, teachers don’t yet have a deal despite messages from principals asking them to show up prepared Monday.

“We have a framework for an agreement, we don’t have an agreement. Until you hear it from CTU,” she said, stepping back from the microphone.

“It isn’t true,” the crowd shouted back at her.

Lewis whipped up the packed park as she laid out her union’s issues:

“I want to know why when we ask for textbooks and materials on the first day on the first day when children walk into a building that somehow we are being unreasonable. I want someone to tell me why that is.”

She digged at Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked school board that includes hotel heiress Penny Pritzker.

“I am tired of billionaires telling us what we need to do for our children as if they love our children more than we do,” Lewis continued, as the crowds the union estimated at 25,000 waved signs and cheered. “I want them to turn off the air conditioning at 125 S. Clark, and work like we work. I want them to turn off the air conditioning on the fifth floor of City Hall and let them work like we work.”

Lewis thanked her rank and file for standing together all week and trusting her with their support.

“Karen Lewis for mayor,” a man shouted.

She laughed, saying “Karen Lewis for retirement.”

“Thank you, but no thank you,” she continued as voices persisted.

Leslie Diaz-Perez, 35, who teaches high school history for special education students at Simeon Career Academy, was waiting to see specifics in the contract.

“We are hopeful but nonetheless this is a sign of unity,” Diaz-Perez said. “We want it all in writing and we will not be taken a fool.”

At the rally -- not a celebration, teachers insisted -- red-shirted Chicago educators were joined by union leaders from the Fraternal Order of Police, the Chicago Labor Federation and from a handful of aldermen who side against the mayor with the union.

Local band and CPS grads “Kids These Days” played a few of their songs. Grammy-award winner Che “Rhymefest” Smith, husband of a CPS teacher and father of two CPS students, praised teachers for helping him through life when he wanted to drop out.

“This is not a get-rich job,” Smith said. “This is a love job.”

But some of the loudest hooting and cheering was aimed at union members from Wisconsin, who were treated like celebrities as they walked through the park thanks to massive protests they staged in 2011.

“Greetings from the state where teachers lived to fight Governor Walker to the city where teachers are standing up against Rahm Emanuel,” said Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association.

“At the time (of the Wisconsin protests) visiting teachers from Chicago came up to me and said, ‘You teachers in Wisconsin are our heroes.’ And today I come to say to you, ‘You teachers in Chicago are our heroes.’ You demanded that public education be a priority for the city, not privatized charters, not private voucher schools, not turnaround schools but public schools.”

Andrea Hamer, a Chicago native and now a Milwaukee middle school special education teacher, said she rode a bus to the Chicago rally to “give support and homage” to the CPS district that educated her.

“I was educated in a district that never worked, but the teachers cared,” she said.

She said Milwaukee teachers lost their battle with Gov. Scott Walker in 2011, when mass protests by public workers rocked the state of Wisconsin, but “we’re here to make sure they (CTU) don’t lose theirs.”

Contributing: Rosalind Rossi



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