[ ViewPoint ] Internal Politics Spurred Chicago Teachers Union Walkout

Much is at stake for Sharkey, Davis Gates in May CTU elections

In the weeks prior to Christmas break, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Twitter account was aflame with warnings of COVID-19 positivity rates at schools, daily updates of new cases and the number of schools affected by the pandemic as a new variant, Omicron, it surged across Chicago.

Amid the hourly warnings, the CTU managed to throw in a few tweets showing how worked up the union was about Kyle Rittenhouse announced as a speaker at a TPUSA event, but mainly kept itself busy by sounding the alarm about coronavirus. At the time, it only seemed as if the CTU was up to its usual antics of kicking up unnecessary hysteria. However, as Chicago issued Public Health Order 2021-22, a mandate that requires proof of vaccination to enter certain businesses, suspicion grew the Chicago Teacher’s Union would demand a return to remote learning to begin the second semester.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when there were no effective vaccines, no data on how the virus reacts and mutates, no known effective treatments and no availability of testing options, remote learning seemed like a sensible and necessary alternative to in-person learning. At that time, remote learning provided teachers, parents and children a way to continue their studies safely without the worry of becoming sick with a relatively unknown virus.

Today, however, we are at much different point in the pandemic than in 2020. The race to find a vaccine for COVID-19 has produced some fine results. Because of swift action taken by the federal government, the Food and Drug Administration, for example, sacrificed its rigorous safety approval process so private laboratories and hospitals were able to develop COVID-19 tests that allowed for the speedy trial of existing drugs to treat the disease.

Furthermore, by virtue of the federal government lifting or relaxing the normally onerous and inflexible regulations it typically imposes on medical research, major pharmaceutical firms were also able to produce vaccines far earlier than initially projected.

Just prior to the beginning of the fall 2020 school semester, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued guidelines recommending schools open in districts with low case numbers provided everyone wears face masks.

However, if levels were higher, children should be kept six feet away from each other if possible and school sports should be reduced. The CDC also recommended regular hand washing, good ventilation and rapid contact tracing, should cases occur in schools.

All of these remained recommendations, however, and the final decisions about school reopening would be made by state or local education boards, alongside individual schools themselves.

CDC guidance came alongside a series of studies that cast doubt on the role of schools in spreading COVID-19 and Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, stating vaccinating staff was not a prerequisite to the safe reopening of schools. The guidelines also came as the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had spent $100 million on its facilities to meet COVID formalities with an emphasis on ventilation.

Unlike 2020, today we have vaccines, boosters and widely available, free RAPID testing. Moreover, numerous treatments are available for those who suffer from COVID, particularly the highly effective monoclonal antibody treatment. Like any illness, the sooner it is treated, the better. We also have data. We’ve seen the way the virus reacts, who it affects and who is most vulnerable to contracting the disease.

We also learned what an unqualified disaster remote learning was and the toll it took on students.

Aside from medical advances, little evidence of transmission in schools, the knowledge COVID-19's fatality rate has been deliberately and greatly exaggerated and improved response protocols to fight COVID, studies have shown that Omicron is a drastically less severe variant of the virus. Yet, the surge of this variant was the basis for the CTU’s latest “work stoppage.”

For all the talk from the Chicago Teachers Union that we must “follow the science,” it is the CTU that is ignoring the science behind Omicron, including three significant studies that have clearly illustrated this particular strain isn’t as severe as it suggests. We should be trusting science, data and facts.

Throughout this pandemic, according to the City of Chicago data portal, seven people between the ages of 0-17 have unfortunately been lost to COVID-19. Another 817 juveniles have been hospitalized due to COVID in Chicago. Although the losses are tragic, it amounts to .1 percent of all COVID-related deaths and two percent of all city-wide hospitalizations.

The Chicago Teachers Union leadership is aware of all of this. Ms. Sharkey and Ms. Davis Gates know the facts, figures and percentages associated with any COVID-19 variant. Yet, despite all the knowledge gained over a year of dealing with COVID, despite getting priority vaccination for teachers and improving accessibility for students, despite $1.8 billion in COVID relief funds, despite increased testing, despite improved ventilation and air circulation, despite better data and ever-changing science, the CTU’s president and vice-president mobilized against in-person instruction over the Christmas break.


As Contrarian’s Alisa Rosenbaum wrote Sunday, part of the rationale behind the CTU’s decision to walkout on students likely rests with CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates’ ambition for public office.

It’s no secret within the walls of CTU headquarters Ms. Davis Gates has eyes on the mayor’s office or perhaps a seat in either the City Council or the Illinois General Assembly.

As plausible as Ms. Davis Gates’ aspiration for elected office is, for the CTU vice president to realize the goal of public office, both she and her boss, Jesse Sharkey, both must survive CTU elections scheduled for May 2022. Neither are guaranteed to be retained by the rank and file.

To understand at least part of what motivated the CTU walkout, one must understand the CTU now operates less as a labor union and more as a full-blown political party. Like any political party, the CTU scrupulously plans every significant action it takes and bases its public positions and conduct on polling and input culled from small group management meetings.

CTU leadership then analyzes feedback and research to formulate a final plan of action.

The CTU also uses information it collects from research, staff meeting feedback and polling to identify dissenting opinion and opponents in their ranks.

While the CTU publicly claimed this walkout was about testing and staff and student safety, it is far more likely the CTU staged the walkout to help union leadership gauge its support in the May elections that will determine whether CORE and its leaders, Mr. Sharkey and Ms. Davis Gates, are returned to power.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, little was known about the virus. We had to exercise caution and make decisions for the public good. Closing schools and shifting to remote learning was the best decision at the time. Since the spring of 2020, we have learned a great deal about COVID and gained an abundance of data, public-health expertise and real-world experimentation. The evidence showed schools do not drive community spread, children are statistically safe from the effects of COVID-19 and many early precautions were unnecessary.

This union walkout was a vulgar display of power to help CTU leaders strategize for upcoming elections. For any CTU member who believed that leadership put the needs of members before their own pursuit of power, this walkout should finally disabuse them of this notion. Hundreds of thousands of Chicago students lost a year of learning when they could barely afford to lose a single day. Because of the CTU leadership’s desire to find a pathway to remain in power, students unnecessarily lost five more days of learning. Locking vulnerable kids out of the classroom is denying students their future.

It is indeed sad when the supposedly best-educated professionals are among the crudest, most unhinged and selfish people in Chicago.

Parents of Chicago’s pupils will have to wait until May to see if CTU members recognize this about its current leadership.


January 23, 2022 at 12:26 AM

By: David R. Stone

Malicious anti-union fantasy

What a misleading piece of propaganda! I am surprised that Substance News would publish opinion pieces from an anti-union blog without providing any context.

The Chicago Contrarian (where the article was originally posted) presents many pieces of informatation, but weaves them into a malicious fantasy.

It is not surprising that a member of the union’s leadership team may have political ambitions and is interested in the race for mayor. Yet this is not why teachers refused to go into unsafe schools. It was a democratic decision voted on by the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates – representatives elected from every Chicago Public School. They know first-hand what the Chicago Board of Education has done (and failed to do) to make schools safe in the face of the omicron surge.

The Contrarian’s statistics about how few students are getting sick fail to prove that the schools are safe. Studies indicating that schools are not a place where Covid spreads are flawed because young children are tested for the disease at a much lower rate than older people. This is especially true in Chicago, where Board’s weak testing program and inaccurate Covid reporting keep the numbers low.

Yes, Covid has killed only a few children, but this is irrelevant to the CTU vote for a job action, because at the time the decision was made, the number of omicron cases was rising rapidly, and any increase in mortality would not show up for several weeks. And childhood illness rates were by no means the only issue. Even when students have no symptoms, they can still be infectious and spread the disease to family members. In addition, all the adults in the building are at risk themselves, and can become vectors to spread the disease to others outside the school building. As the omicron variant surged at the beginning of January and hospital beds were becoming scarce, it made sense to curtail activities that could contribute to community spread of a highly infectious disease. Public safety was first on CTU members’ minds, not any mayoral election several months away.

-David R. Stone, retired teacher

February 7, 2022 at 6:55 PM

By: Edward Hershey

Agree with David

Just that

February 7, 2022 at 7:51 PM

By: John Kugler

The Party Line

First, as George always taught me, when people disagree with a story or someone else's story, sit back and see what they say. As far as right-wing, that is your opinion; show the proof. Otherwise, you are just mimicking what the party line says.

George was called a racist by CORE, so we take labels with a grain of salt here at Substance. With cancel culture, anyone who does not conform to the alt-left gets labeled something nasty.

Last, explain the sudden slating procedures that happened this weekend. Was there a debate, and were the proper procedures followed in the slating process to fill Jesse's "last-minute" decision to drop out as an officer candidate?

Think about this, both of you are worried about an article posted on the internet and trying to shame a newspaper that has put people in prison for corruption and child molestation. Yet, there is a corruption of process right in front of your eyes and what did either of you do about it?

That is textbook Niomi Klien. You fear the people in power and attack the people they say are your enemy.

Instead of attacking an article how about writing one about what just happened in CORE.

And Dave you did not prove the article was wrong, did you?

John Kugler

Tired of Bullshit and Lies

February 8, 2022 at 12:58 PM

By: David R. Stone

Anti-propaganda but pro-Substance

Here is the key question: Is it true, as the Contrarian article re-posted by Substance News argued, that “This union walkout was a vulgar display of power to help CTU leaders strategize for upcoming elections”? As I conceded in my comment, the article included many pieces of accurate reporting. And later actions by union leadership, as reported by Substance and mentioned in Dr. John Kugler’s response to my comment, can certainly support the argument that union leadership is power hungry and undemocratic. But that is largely irrelevant in explaining why the union’s House of Delegates and then the entire union membership voted to stay out of unsafe schools.

So maybe I did not “prove” that the article was wrong, but I certainly called it into serious question.

It is important to know what others are saying, and I never faulted Substance for re-posting the article. I merely said I was surprised that Substance did so “without providing any context.” Would it have been difficult to put a note on top identifying the bias of the article’s source? And maybe add a comment at the end pointing out questionable conclusions and misleading statements? I would hope Substance would do the same with news releases from the Board of Education, from the Chicago Teachers Union, and from any factions campaigning for CTU leadership positions.

I don’t see how anyone can equate my attempt to fight anti-union propaganda with an attack on journalism or with support of corruption. The Contrarian uses an attack on union leadership as part of its effort to smear the entire union. Let’s not fall into their trap of falsely assuming that a disagreement on one point means we must disagree on everything.

And while expressing concern about how people are labeled, it is Dr. Kugler who introduced the term “right wing” to this discussion. My term for the Contrarian website was “anti-union,” which any union organizer who looks at the site can see is accurate.

-David R. Stone

February 8, 2022 at 8:14 PM

By: John Kugler

Labels & the Truth

You would be surprised at what they (CORE) called George or me or Substance ...

The most anti-union organization in Chicago today is the CORE caucus. In the next few months, I will be sharing information about the tactics, strategy, and anti-union behavior by officers and managers of the CTU.

At this point, I have no contractual or employment obligation with the CTU. Therefore I will assert my rights to free speech and concerted activity to share information that will shock even the most hardened CTU insider.

Did anyone stop the fake slating process that just occurred? If not, then worry about what is happening in front of you rather than some right-wing media article that you doint agree with.

And if it bothers you so much, maybe start looking at the facts and see why CTU spins information that polarizes people as you did in your initial response.

Write some articles about what you feel or have seen since CORE has been in power rather than complain about another news outlet. Good or bad does not matter as long it is what your experience is or was.

Members need the information to make a decision on May 20, 2022. a Whitewashed CORE history is a disservice to the democratic history of our Union.



ps - Substance will post stories from all sectors and ideologies to give indivuals exposure to all view points as we have protected and reported on in the last 45 years.

February 9, 2022 at 12:55 AM

By: David R. Stone

CORE is not the union

Dr. K,

You are right to expose corruption in CTU leadership and in the CORE caucus. But please be careful about spreading ideas that undermine the entire union movement. The Contrarian article’s statements about Stacy’s power grabbing deserve a hearing, but their claims that teachers should accept their bosses’ lies about school safety and had no need to fight for better working conditions needed to be challenged.


February 9, 2022 at 1:24 PM

By: Susan Hickey, LCSW

CORE's view of clinicians

I will never forget being taken off the bargaining team in 2016 as CTU (CORE ;leadership in CTU) wanted to settle. I was impeding that because I made alliances with other BBT members to help push clinicians\' issues. I was suppose to be scolded by them. I said to them they should speak to the clinician steering committee. Karen Lewis, Jesse S, Jackson P and others came. Karen Lewis actually told us that we were too small of a group to hold up the negotiations. Members First was partially born from that meeting.

Add your own comment (all fields are necessary)

Substance readers:

You must give your first name and last name under "Name" when you post a comment at We are not operating a blog and do not allow anonymous or pseudonymous comments. Our readers deserve to know who is commenting, just as they deserve to know the source of our news reports and analysis.

Please respect this, and also provide us with an accurate e-mail address.

Thank you,

The Editors of Substance

Your Name

Your Email

What's your comment about?

Your Comment

Please answer this to prove you're not a robot:

5 + 3 =