Press Release

AFT Mourns the Passing of Former Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis

For Release:


Oriana Korin

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement upon learning of the death of former Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis:

“We are all better for Karen Lewis having been a part of our lives, and a part of the education and labor movements. She will be remembered as a force of nature, one of the most consequential voices for public education in this generation, and a tireless advocate for the belief that union power can be a force for community justice. Karen’s political might was notorious, and her appetite for a strategic fight was unmatched. But her goal was always the same: to create opportunity, equity and agency for the students, families and educators of the city Chicago, the state of Illinois and the entire nation. That will be her legacy.

“The conversation we have about schooling in this country today is fundamentally different because of Karen’s efforts to shed light on the perils of the ‘reform’ effort and refocus on meeting the needs of children. But it’s more than that: Like Jackie Vaughn before her, another iconic leader of the CTU, Karen helped our members believe in themselves. Her courage gave them courage to stand up to the bullying and disrespect often heaped on educators. She understood and taught that together we can do what is impossible to accomplish alone. And she practiced what she preached, which is why Local 1’s core strength remains its solidarity and its commitment to the democratic process. Her courageous battle with cancer was marked by the same tenacity and will no doubt inspire an entire generation of people who will just keep fighting, because Karen taught them how.

“For so many of us, Karen was more than a colleague, more than a science teacher, and more than a local president and an AFT vice president. She was a friend, a soulmate and a sister. I treasured Karen’s love and laughed every time she called me mom. Sharon and I celebrated her adult bat mitzvah with her, and she was one of the first people we told that we were getting married. I learned from her and will treasure those lessons.

“On behalf of all the AFT’s members, I send Karen’s family and loved ones my deepest sympathies and join them in cherishing a life well lived. May her memory forever be a blessing.”

# # # #

The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.