Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot: Teachers Union ‘Akin to a Political Party’

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - OCTOBER 21: Striking Chicago public school teachers and their supporters march through the city's west side on October 21, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. About 25,000 Chicago school teachers went on strike last week after the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) failed to reach a contract agreement with the …
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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) criticized the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) for putting up obstacles to reopening schools for in-person learning, stating the union has “aspirations” that are “akin to a political party.”

“When you have unions that have other aspirations beyond being a union, and maybe being something akin to a political party, then there’s always going to be conflict,” Lightfoot said during an interview published Sunday in the New York Times.

Lightfoot responded to a question about how she would describe the union.

“I think, ultimately, they’d like to take over not only Chicago Public Schools, but take over running the city government,” she stated. “That’ll play itself out over time. I don’t really spend time, and certainly not in the middle of a pandemic, worrying about the politics. But politics intrudes, always.”

The mayor elaborated further:

Let me put it in a context of labor across the city. We have relationships with over 40 [organized labor] units. We have labor peace with almost every single one, except for two. The Fraternal Order of Police, which has a lot of right-wing Trump aspirations, and the Chicago Teachers Union. When you have unions that have other aspirations beyond being a union, and maybe being something akin to a political party, then there’s always going to be conflict.

Following months of conflict between the union and Chicago Public Schools (CPS), CTU would only agree to abandon its threats of a strike if, among other demands, all teachers have the opportunity to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The Biden administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky has said schools should be able to reopen with common mitigation methods that include the use of masks, social distancing, and frequent hand washing.

“We can re-open schools safely, even if all of the teachers are not vaccinated,” Walensky said in early February on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show and added:

There’s accumulating data that suggests that there is not a lot of transmission that is happening in schools when the proper mitigation measures are taken, when there is masking, when there is distancing, de-densification of the classroom, ventilation, contact tracing, hand-washing, all of those things, when they’re done well, the data suggests, the science suggests that there is not a lot of transmission happening in schools, and in fact, the case rates in schools are generally lower than they are in the population surrounding it. So, that’s what the data and the science suggest. And that we definitely want to have the community rates of disease go down. We want to make sure that that is happening as well. But the data suggests that it’s safe to go back to school if you do all of those mitigation measures.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, however, responded to Walensky’s comments by stating the CDC director’s statement that there is no necessity for all teachers to be vaccinated prior to reopening schools is not “official guidance.”

“[S]he’s in Atlanta — that they have not released their official guidance yet from the CDC on the vaccination of teachers and what would be needed to ensure the safe reopening of schools,” Psaki said. “And so, we’d certainly defer to that, which we hope to see soon.”

However, Walensky repeated her comments during an interview following Psaki’s press briefing.

The Associated Press (AP) reported on the lack of clarity within the Biden administration regarding the reopening of schools, suggesting “an early test of President Joe Biden’s allegiance with powerful teachers unions.”

“The increasingly heated school reopening debate is forcing President Joe Biden to balance two priorities: getting children back into the classroom and preserving the support of powerful labor groups that helped him get elected,” AP noted.

On Friday, an article at USA Today observed that President Biden’s stated goal of having most public schools open for in-person learning within his first 100 days in office is escaping him as he is now being accused of “shifting goal posts” on the guidelines for reopening schools.

The White House subsequently downsized Biden’s goal, stating it hopes for 50 percent or more of schools to open “for at least one day a week” within 100 days.

Biden’s “pledge to reopen most American schools within his first 100 days in office is in danger of going off the rails as teachers’ unions hold firm on their demands for new safety measures amid conflicting messages from the administration and public health leaders,” CNN reported.

National teachers’ union heads have urged that teachers be prioritized for obtaining the vaccine, but “have stopped short of calling it a requirement for a return to in-person learning,” CNN added.

“Medical vaccinations were not a prerequisite to open hospitals,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told CNN. “They’re not a prerequisite to open schools. The mitigation strategies are a prerequisite to open schools.”

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