WEST TOWN — The relationship between teachers union boss Karen Lewis and Rahm Emanuel — which allegedly began in 2011 with the mayor telling her "F--- you, Lewis" — has warmed a bit, Lewis says.
Even though more than 95.6 percent of Chicago Teachers Union members voted last week to approve the first strike since 2012, Lewis Tuesday night described her famously testy relationship with Emanuel as currently "respectful."
"I don't have a problem texting him or calling him," Lewis said at a Girl Talk show at the Hideout Inn, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., hosted by DNAinfo Deputy Editor Jen Sabella and Chicago teacher and union member Erika Wozniak.
But Lewis said she was "not afraid of a fight."
"I know bad words, too," Lewis said, noting her upbringing on the South Side. "I can take off my earrings and get the Vaseline."
She also seemed to indicate some understanding of the stresses associated with occupying the mayor's office. "It is an impossible job to do well," Lewis said in response to a question about who should run in 2019.
Lewis said she sometimes sees him at Jewish services, though she claimed, with a laugh, that he's not a weekly attendee at shul.
At the Hideout Inn event, Lewis rallied friends and supporters some 24 hours before leaders of the union could decide to walk off the job for the second time in four years. She kicked off the appearance by singing along to "Solidarity Forever," a pro-union song from 1945 that reverberated throughout the city in during the seven-day strike in 2012.
Lewis did not say whether union delegates would formally decide to strike Wednesday evening, informing Mayor Rahm Emanuel that they plan to walk off the job. That could happen as early as Oct. 11.
Lewis said her mission was to see that Chicago's teachers were "adequately compensated" but did not discuss the ongoing negotiations with city officials.
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The $5.4 billion Chicago Public Schools budget, adopted in August, relies on a contract proposal rejected by the union in February that would raise teachers' pay but require them to contribute more to their pensions.
The four-year CPS contract proposal — based on a report compiled by an independent fact finder — includes an 8.75 percent increase in teachers' wages and a cap on new charter schools. It also offers "steps and lanes," automatic bumps in teacher pay that kick in with seniority and experience.
But the offer also includes the so-called "pension pickup," which would require teachers to contribute 9.4 percent of their salaries into their own pension fund.
Any labor agreement that works out to a pay cut for teachers — as union officials contend the CPS contract proposal does — is dead on arrival, Lewis has said.
CPS agreed to pay part of teachers' pension contribution in 1987 in place of a pay raise as part of contract negotiations.
But despite the looming work stoppage, Lewis gave the standing-room only audience a glimpse into her private life, by declaring herself a lover of Star Trek and Star Wars.
Lewis said she was trying to read more novels — and fewer policy books.
Lewis, who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor as she prepared to challenge Emanuel's bid for a second term as mayor, said her illness had given her a new "perspective."
"I was pulled back from death's door," Lewis said. "I don't let negativity in."
With the next election for mayor set for 2019, Lewis said she wasn't sure who should run.
"It is an impossible job to do well," Lewis said.
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