News & Politics » Ben Joravsky on Politics

Why won’t Mayor Rahm grant Alderman Sue Garza unpaid leave from CPS?

Cops, firefighters, and other city employees get to take unpaid leave if they’re elected.


Tenth Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza - BRIAN JACKSON/SUN-TIMES MEDIA
  • Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media
  • Tenth Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza

For the past few months, Mayor Rahm's been acting like he's the teachers' best friend, calling on them to put aside their past differences and join his effort to win more school money from the state.

Behind the scenes, however, he's the same old Rahm as he sticks it to Tenth Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, a former CPS counselor and the only member of the Chicago Teachers Union in the City Council.

Oh, I know, there are greater issues at play in the city than the ongoing saga of how the mayor won't approve Garza's leave of absence. But if you want to know why so many teachers still distrust Emanuel, pay attention.

First thing you should know—Garza will never be mistaken for a Rahm ally.

The daughter of Ed Sadlowski, the longtime steel-union labor leader, her family's been battling various Democratic bosses on the southeast side for decades.

Since 1996, Garza's worked at Jane Addams Elementary School, at 108th Street and Avenue H. She started in the cafeteria and worked her way up to counselor.

As you might expect, she's been a stalwart in the CTU, and was on the front lines for the 2012 strike. Like I said, not a friend of Rahm's.

She was elected in 2015, defeating alderman John Pope—an Emanuel ally—by 20 votes.

Soon thereafter, she requested leave to serve in the City Council.

"It was an unpaid leave—so it wasn't like I was double dipping," says Garza. "I didn't think this was a big deal."

Obviously, Alderman Garza still has a thing or two to learn about Mayor Rahm's Chicago.

"I called Moriarty, and he said there's no precedent for this kind of leave," Garza continues.

That would be Joseph Moriarty, chief labor relations officer for CPS.

As opposed to Professor Moriarty, the evil villain in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Just kidding, Joe.

"I said, 'I guess I'm the virgin that has to be sacrificed,'" says Garza. "Moriarty didn't laugh."

Yeah, well, Professor Moriarty wasn't known for his sense of humor either.

But after talking to other aldermen, Garza discovered it was standard operating procedure for the city to grant leaves of absence to public employees elected to the City Council.

That includes aldermen Nick Sposato and Anthony Napolitano, who are firefighters; aldermen Willie Cochran and Chris Taliaferro, who are cops; and alderman Derrick Curtis, who's a Streets and Sanitation ward superintendent.

In other words, the boys. Apparently, under Mayor Rahm there's one set of standards for professions mostly filled by men, and another for professions generally occupied by women.

"I can't believe they wouldn't give Sue the leave," says Sposato.

“It discourages teachers from running for alderman, if they think they have to give up their careers to run for office.”

—Tenth Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza­

As Sposato points out, routinely granting unpaid leave to municipal employees is important if you want to encourage anyone other than lawyers to run for office.

"Nothing against attorneys," says Sposato. "But you want people with common sense to be aldermen too."

Not that some lawyers don't have common sense. But I get what you're saying, alderman.

In Garza's case, she's an independent-minded alderman—and a member of the Progressive Caucus—who's unafraid to vote against the mayor's budget and borrowing policies.

In other words, the kind of alderman Rahm hates.

Without a leave, she'd have to crawl back to CPS and beg for a job once her term's over. Good luck with that.

In defense of Mayor Rahm, the double standard existed before he took office.

According to the city's personnel code, "a leave of absence without pay shall be authorized to enable [employees] to be elected or accept appointment to an elective office."

That covers cops, firefighters, truck drivers, and so forth.

Teachers and counselors are employees of the Chicago Public Schools, so apparently they're not under the jurisdiction of the personnel code.

CPS automatically grants unpaid leave to employees who take union positions. For instance, Karen Lewis, president of the CTU, is on leave from her job as a CPS science teacher.

But there's no specific language in the CPS personnel code covering employees who get elected to public office.

Garza is the first CPS employee to get elected to the City Council. Now do you get the joke, Mr. Moriarty?

Last year, CTU officials raised the matter with CPS during contract bargaining negotiations.

And the CPS negotiators said they'd have to run the matter past the mayor's office. Eventually, CPS told CTU that the issue had to be addressed in collective bargaining.

In other words, if CTU wants the mayor to give Garza a leave, the mayor wants CTU to give something up. Who knows what he has in mind—a pay cut, longer hours, more standardized tests?

He's a tough guy, that mayor—especially with teachers. Too bad he's not this tough with bankers and lawyers for the company that owns the parking meters.

"This is an important issue for the younger teachers," says Garza. "It discourages teachers from running for alderman if they think they have to give up their careers to run for office."

I guess we just discovered another reason Mayor Rahm won't grant Garza's request.

Again, she's asking for an unpaid leave. So granting it wouldn't cost taxpayers a cent.

In contrast, the mayor gave Pope a $117,000-a-year job in the water department just a few months after Garza bounced him from office.

Now, that's how the mayor treats his friends.

OK, I understand why the mayor takes a hard negotiating stand with CTU on salaries and benefits—though he was far more conciliatory with firefighters and cops when he negotiated their contracts.

But why be such a jerk on something so minor, like Garza's leave request? Especially, when you're trying to convince everybody that you're not a jerk.

I contacted CPS for comment, but they didn't get back to me. So Mayor Rahm, let me appeal directly to you.

Just grant Garza her leave already. You know—treat her like one of the guys. v

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