Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, recently gave a speech that joked about the possibility of union members killing the wealthy.
The speech, delivered to the Illinois Labor History Society on Dec. 2, attracted attention this week after video of the event surfaced online.
Lewis earned scattered applause from her audience by noting that, approximately 100 years ago, pro-union activists were ready to murder their rich bosses.
The union chief then said she didn’t think present-day unions and the working class are in a bad enough situation for violence to become necessary — yet.
“We are in a moment where the wealth disparity in this country is very reminiscent of the robber baron ages,” she said. “The labor leaders of that time, though, were ready to kill. They were. They were just ready. They were like, ‘off with their heads.’ They were seriously talking about that.”
Once the laughter subsided, Lewis clarified that she didn’t think today’s unions were “at that point.” She did maintain, however, that rich people are guilty of endorsing violence against teachers.
“The thing is, [the rich] think nothing about killing us,” she said. “They think nothing about putting our people in harm’s way. They think nothing about lethal working conditions.”
She cited the fact that not all Chicago schools have air conditioning as evidence that the union’s opponents want teachers to work in dangerous conditions.
Lewis is no stranger to controversial comments. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, she charged Teach for America with helping to “kill and disenfranchise children from schools across the nation.”