Director of Labor Policy
As Illinois continues to struggle through a wave of copy-cat work stoppages in the wake of the disastrous Chicago Teachers Union strike, it should be noted that, far from the image of the ragged Norma Rae, a lot of teachers union operatives are making a pretty good living for themselves. According to union financial reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, there are more than 120 employees of the Illinois Education Association, or IEA, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, or IFT, earning more than $100,000. This does not include staff from local unions.
In its report for 2011, IFT listed 37 officers and employees earning six-figure salaries. Topping the list was Michael McGue, who pulled in more than $255,000. But the union also listed 24 field staff with salaries ranging from $100,000 to $155,000. These dollar amounts do not include reimbursed expenses.
IEA has an even larger, but still well-paid, staff, with 90 officers and staff earning $100,000 or more. Topping the tables was IEA President Kenneth Swanson, with compensation of $181,000, not including expenses. But the bulk of the highly paid IEA staff is composed of Uniserv directors, who are employed by the IEA and provide expert guidance to local teachers unions.
IFT’s structure is such that the role of state staff is not always clear, but IEA’s Uniserv staff have been taking an active role in bargaining, organizing protests and managing strike activities. According to Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, which monitors teacher unions, local officials frequently defer to Uniserv staff on matters of tactics. Uniserv staff themselves are recruited and trained by state affiliates of the National Education Association, such as IEA, and are well versed in these groups’ preferred tactics and policies. These are people who have mastered the dark arts of union work. This arrangement makes NEA and IEA more of a top-down group. The Elementary Association of West Chicago shows how this works at the local level.
Teachers at West Chicago District 33 are likely to go on strike next Monday. If they do, the union will attempt to portray this as a struggle between desperate, underpaid teachers and a wealthy, powerful administration. And it is true that administrators in the West Chicago school district are doing well for themselves; according to the Illinois State Board of Education, the average administrator in West Chicago earns $115,000. But the teachers themselves have an average salary of more than $75,000, which is pretty good when compared with an average household income of $63,377. (And remember, that household income figure includes a lot of two-income families.)
And then there’s the hand that is very likely orchestrating the whole affair from the union side. When the Elementary Teachers Association of West Chicago sent in its final offer, it wasn’t a teacher or the local union’s president who mailed the thing in: it was IEA Uniserv Director Tom Terranova, who took in $125,877 during the 2010-11 school year. Teacher strikes aren’t battles between the powerful and the powerless as much as they are skirmishes among the upper-middle class.
Both IFT and IEA staff work full-time for the union. At one point they may have been teachers but their profession now is unionism. So while humble teachers may be the face of the teacher strike, the brains – and possibly the motivators – behind the strike are likely to be well-paid union staff who work full time on union business and have little recent experience teaching children.