Chicago Teachers Union Boss Karen Lewis Hints at Pension Compromise

The fiery archnemesis of Rahm Emanuel says she'd negotiate with City Hall

Karen Lewis, Chicago Teacher's Union president and scourge of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, says she would consider extending an olive branch to City Hall and negotiate a compromise on member pensions.

In a new interview with Crain's Chicago Business' Greg Hinz (see video below), Lewis said she'd be open to a reduction in benefits for current workers but not for retirees.

"There could be some modification," she said, according to the paper, when addressing changes for active union members. "We're interested in talking about modifications, yes."

The feisty CTU leader declined to give specifics as she presented strategies for coming up with the billions required to prop up underfunded teacher pensions. They include a suburban commuter tax, a tax on financial transactions at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and, according to Hinz, a proposal to tap revenue from lapsing tax-increment financing districts that would avoid raising property taxes to Emanuel-endorsed levels.

Meanwhile, the mayor has emphatically squashed Lewis' idea to tax exchanges at the Merc and "make heroes" out of the well-to-do employees in the city's financial sector. He argued that such a tax -- currently banned under state law -- would drive business out of the city.

Quoth Emanuel: "Years ago, people referred to LaSalle Street because it was a financial center. Chicago had a lot of banks that were Chicago-based. There’s only one left. They’re all gone. As it relates to the futures and options industry, that’s a place where Chicago is still economically a dominant player — and there’s more competition."

Early Thursday, the Sun-Times cited anonymous sources as saying that Lewis recently had weight-loss surgery in advance of a possible mayoral run against Emanuel.

For now, in public at least, Lewis has name-dropped Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle as a potential contender to defeat Emanuel in 2015. She also spoke at a recent fundraiser for Ald. Bob Fioretti, another progressive option, praising him as "the kind of leader we need."

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