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Karen Lewis (labor leader)

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Karen Lewis
Karen Lewis.png
Lewis speaking at Daley Plaza during the protest of Chicago school closings, 2013.
Born (1953-06-26) June 26, 1953 (age 61)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Alma mater Kenwood Academy
Mount Holyoke College
Dartmouth College
Occupation Chicago Public Schools Teacher
Labor Leader
Chicago Teacher's Union
(President; 2010-present)
Religion Judaism[1]
Spouse(s) John Lewis (m. 1982)

Karen Lewis (born June 26, 1953) is an American Chicago Public Schools teacher and labor leader. She is the current president of the Chicago Teachers Union, local 1 of the American Federation of Teachers. She is a former King College Prep High School and Lane Technical High School chemistry teacher, her occupation for 22 years before becoming president of the teachers union.

Early life[edit]

Lewis is the daughter of a family of teachers. She left Kenwood High School (now Kenwood Academy) after her junior year to attend Mount Holyoke College. She transferred to Dartmouth College in 1972 and is the only African American woman in the class of 1974, with a degree in sociology and music.[2] A widow, her second husband is a former Chicago schools physical education teacher.

Chicago Teachers Union[edit]

Lewis is the president of the Chicago Teachers Union. She has been a member of the union since 1988. In 2010, Lewis, running with the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), gained control over the CTU by winning 60% of the vote in a run-off election.[3] CORE ran an aggressive grassroots organizing campaign, and took a strong stance against school privatization.[4] CORE accused the incumbent United Progressive Caucus (UPC) of capitulating to corporate interests, silencing dissent within the union, and collaborating with the city to prevent union outreach at schools.[5]

CORE quickly took action to distinguish itself from UPC, the previous caucus controlling the CTU, reaffirm its grassroots support, and launch a campaign to defend public education. The new leadership cut pay for union officers and used the savings to expand outreach.[6] CORE represented a major bloc of dissent at the 2012 AFT convention, and held signs in protest of Race to the Top during a speech from Vice President Joe Biden.[7]

2012 strike[edit]

In early September 2012 she led the Chicago Teachers Union on a strike. While it failed to get a 30 percent raise the union sought, the union softened the proposed teacher evaluation system, prevented the instituting of merit pay, and ensured protections for veteran teachers in phased out schools.[8] Prior to the strike she went through several months of negotiations with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Emanuel appointee Chicago Public Schools board president Penny Pritzker. Lewis claimed that during a disagreement over lengthening the school day, Emanuel said, “Fuck you, Lewis.”[9]

Potential 2015 mayoral candidacy[edit]

In 2014, Lewis set up an exploratory committee to consider running for mayor of Chicago in 2015.[10] In a July 2014 poll, Lewis bested Emanuel 45-36 in a hypothetical electoral contest.[11] On October 13, 2014, her exploratory committee announced that she would not run, citing health issues (see section below). [12]


On October 9, 2014, Lewis was hospitalized for a "serious illness".[13] On October 13, a source confirmed that Lewis had been diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor.[14]


  1. ^ Chicago Tonight: Karen Lewis
  2. ^ Greg Hinz, "So you think you know Karen Lewis?" Crain's Chicago, Business, August 12, 2013
  3. ^ Canon, Ramsin (12 June 2010). "Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) Takes Over Chicago Teachers Union". Gapers Block. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  4. ^ Canon, Ramsin (3 May 2010). "The Education Revolt: The Chicago Model's Fallout". Gapers Block. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  5. ^ Abowd, Paul (7 June 2010). "Chicago's Rank and File Educators Well-Positioned Against “Play it Safe” Incumbents". Labor Notes. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  6. ^ Sustar, Lee (31 August 2012). "Chicago Teachers Draw a Line". The Indypendent. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  7. ^ Scott, Norm (30 July 2012). "@AFT - Chicago Teachers Protest RTTT During/After Biden Speech". Ed Notes Online. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  8. ^ Ellen Jean Hirst and Jennifer Delgado, "Chicago Sun-Times," "It's back to school again for Chicago students"
  9. ^ Rosalind Rossi, "Chicago Sun-Times," "Teachers union president Mayor Emanuel ‘exploded’ at her" September 9, 2011
  10. ^ Natasha Koerecki, "Chicago Sun-Times," "Karen Lewis inches closer to run — crafting exploratory committee"—-crafting-exploratory-committee/tue-07152014-1251am
  11. ^ Korecki, Natasha (July 14, 2014). "Exclusive poll: Karen Lewis could give Rahm run for his money". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 
  12. ^ Juan Perez Jr, "Chicago Tribune," "Karen Lewis will not run for Chicago Mayor"
  13. ^ "CTU may offer details today on Karen Lewis' health". Chicago October 9, 2014. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  14. ^