Brandon Johnson pickets with Chicago State University strikers

Brandon Johnson pickets with Chicago State University strikers

Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson stood with striking Chicago State University faculty. Eastern Illinois University and Governors State University are also undergoing faculty strikes.

Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson joined faculty on strike at Chicago State University – familiar territory for Johnson, a long-time organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union.

Chicago State and Eastern Illinois University employees were heading back to the bargaining table April 12. Employees at Governors State University also went on strike April 11, joining CSU and EIU as the third state school with faculty on strike.

Robert Bruno, director of the labor studies education program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, can’t recall a previous mayor or mayor-elect standing at the picket line with union activists.

“It would certainly be consistent with Johnson’s values to be out there, and this is probably a departure from what we’ve seen, quite frankly, from other mayors,” Bruno said. “I don’t have another example of a mayor doing this.”

The CSU strike was initiated after negotiations between the faculty union and the university administration failed to reach a consensus. The union is calling for higher wages and a lower workload.

The Chicago Teachers Union – which supports the university faculty strike – was one of the major donors to Johnson’s campaign, providing more than $2.2 million in support and lots of union members to knock on voters’ doors. Unions in general funded more than 90% of his campaign.

Last week, Johnson and Gov. J.B. Pritzker met to discuss their relationship as both will be serving for the next four years. But now Johnson is on the picket line with workers who are at odds with the state.

Johnson’s close relationship with the CTU could lead to biased negotiations with city unions, particularly when it comes to issues such as wages, benefits, and working conditions. Johnson will lead negotiations for Chicago Public Schools teacher contracts in 2024.

Johnson’s response to a question during the Feb. 7 WTTW mayoral forum doesn’t bode well for Johnson’s ability to remain neutral toward the union. When asked where he differs from the CTU, Johnson answered, “What kind of question is that?” He never answered the question.

Public universities in Illinois spent 44% of their budgets on pensions in 2022, up from just 9% in 2007. Less money for operations means students have to pay more, which explains why Illinois’ in-state tuition is the fourth-highest in the nation.

Both Pritzker and Johnson are against pension reform, but former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and soon-to-be former Mayor Lori Lightfoot both at the end of their terms called on state lawmakers to pursue constitutional pension reform. 

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