2 Cook County commissioners each collect over $100K from Chicago Teachers Union

2 Cook County commissioners each collect over $100K from Chicago Teachers Union

Records show two Cook County Board members representing Chicago-area districts have each collected more than $100,000 from the Chicago Teachers Union atop their $85,000 commissioner salaries.

One member of the Cook County Board has more than doubled his income with a six-figure salary from the striking Chicago Teachers Union.

Another has done the same through lobbying work for the union.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson earns the baseline $85,000 salary each county board member receives. On top of that, Johnson, whose county district covers areas of the west side of Chicago, has simultaneously collected a second full-time income of at least $103,000 from the Chicago Teachers Union, according to federal filings. Between the union and county, Johnson collects at least $188,000 annually.

CTU’s most recent federal filing, covering the period from July 2018 through June 2019, lists Johnson as a “legislative” employee. The filing shows 94% of his duties involved “representational activities.”

Johnson’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Illinois Policy Institute.

CTU’s latest federal filing also shows the union has outsourced lobbying work to Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who has since March 2018 collected $146,000 from the union. Suffredin’s county district includes the northernmost part of Chicago. Suffredin is not employed directly by the union, but the federal filings shows he contracted with them for government affairs work.

While the county does not have direct oversight of Chicago schools like the city does, the fact that two commissioners draw such large paychecks from the union does point out strong ties. CTU and its political action committee donated over $291,000 in 2019 to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for her failed run for Chicago mayor, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records. Preckwinkle went on to lose all 50 wards to current Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who received no money from the union and is locked in a contract struggle with them that resulted in a strike Oct. 17.

Both Johnson and Suffredin were among seven Chicago-area Cook County commissioners who added their name to an Oct. 17 letter issued to Lightfoot voicing support for CTU’s demands.

Johnson won his county board seat in 2018, and has been employed by CTU since 2011, working as an organizer and deputy political director. He was instrumental in leading CTU’s 2012 teachers strike, which lasted seven school days.

Suffredin has been on the county board since 2002. CTU’s federal filings detailing his work only go back to March 2018. He could not immediately be reached.

Johnson and Suffredin are not the only Cook County commissioners collecting salaries other than their public service pay: Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski, for example, doubles as mayor of the suburban Cook County village of McCook, where he supplements his $85,000 county income with $81,000 in salary and benefits as mayor.

CTU members voted Sept. 26 to authorize a strike for the third time in seven years, and began striking Oct. 17. “What a shame we have a mayor who is not committed to putting justice in writing,” Johnson told the Chicago Tribune, at a CTU rally ahead of the strike.

Johnson’s county district covers areas of west Chicago, including the underserved Austin neighborhood, where over 28% of households live below the poverty line, according to city data. Research shows low-income and minority students are most harmed by teacher strikes, which can permanently harm educational achievement for affected students.

In July, CTU and Chicago Public Schools agreed to hire an independent fact-finder to evaluate the district’s proposals as well as the union’s. Lightfoot revised her offer to match the fact-finder’s recommendations, while CTU rejected the deal, pushing its demands farther. Among the nation’s 10 largest school districts, CTU has the most permissive striking provisions under state law.

CTU’s heightened demands of extra staffing, community schools and 15% more in salary over three years would cost more than $1.1 billion. The city of Chicago is currently facing a budget deficit of $838 million.

CTU’s demands for extra salary, additional support staff and new community schools alone could cost the average property taxpayer at least $235 more, compared to the mayor’s offer costing $13 more, if the new contract were solely paid through property taxes. Nearly 60% of college-educated Chicago workers earn less than the median Chicago teacher salary of $75,000, data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows.

Employees of the teachers’ union – distinct from teachers employed by the school district – may not agree that their income is publicly funded. But that income derives from dues from members’ paychecks, which local residents indeed fund through property taxes. During the past 10 years, CPS’ property tax collections have grown twice as fast as the median household income in Chicago, while CPS’ debt has grown six times faster than residents’ income.

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