Chicago Teachers Union, affiliates put over $2.3M in Brandon Johnson campaign

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
February 10, 2023

Chicago Teachers Union, affiliates put over $2.3M in Brandon Johnson campaign

The Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers have backed CTU lobbyist Brandon Johnson with more than $2.3 million in his run for Chicago mayor. The sitting mayor said CTU wants to take over City Hall.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot predicted in 2021 that the Chicago Teachers Union doesn’t just want to extend its reach into running Chicago Public Schools.

“I think, ultimately, they’d like to take over not only Chicago Public Schools, but take over running the city government,” Lightfoot told The New York Times.

Now the union’s extravagant funding of Brandon Johnson’s mayoral campaign is making her prediction look like it could come true.

Between Jan. 1, 2022, and Feb. 10, 2023, CTU and its political action committee funneled over $931,000 into Johnson’s political campaign, according to records with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

That’s more than triple the $291,000 it poured into Toni Preckwinkle’s failed mayoral bid in 2019.

And it doesn’t include contributions by CTU’s parent affiliates, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. AFT pledged $1 million in funding to Johnson, and to date its PAC has contributed nearly $1.1 million. IFT’s PAC has contributed over $340,000, according to state records.

CTU wasn’t happy its chosen candidate lost to Lightfoot in 2019. Since then, the union has routinely butted heads with Lightfoot, walking out three times in three school years and left parents and students just hours to find back-up plans when school was cancelled.

Following a 2021 work stoppage, then-CTU President Jesse Sharkey told the Chicago Tribune, “We’re a union that fights the boss. That was true for Daley, it’s true for Rahm [Emanuel], it’s true for Lightfoot. It’s going to be true for whoever’s mayor next.”

CTU won’t have to fight the boss if Johnson is elected.

For at least the past five years, Johnson has been on the union payroll and taken in over $390,000 as a “legislative coordinator,” according to documents CTU filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. All the while, he was also earning a salary as a Cook County Board commissioner.

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 if elected. When asked where he differs from the CTU, Johnson answered, “What kind of question is that?” He never answered the question.

His inability to distinguish himself from the union backing him makes it likely Johnson would continue pushing CTU’s agenda if he became mayor.

Johnson’s campaign isn’t the first time CTU has tried to get one of its own into the mayor’s office. In 2014, former CTU President Karen Lewis announced her intention of running for mayor before her unfortunate diagnosis of an aggressive and deadly form of brain cancer. CTU and AFT’s PACs spent more than $85,000 on her campaign before she withdrew.

Obviously that amount pales in comparison to the more than $2.3 million Johnson has received from CTU and its affiliates. Between that and the Preckwinkle loss, the lesson CTU appears to have learned is to funnel even more money into elections. Just since 2010, the union has given over $17 million to state and local election committees, including to half of the sitting lawmakers in the Illinois General Assembly and two out of every three Chicago aldermen.

What’s on the line if Johnson wins and kowtows to CTU’s agenda? A plethora of expensive contract demands that would cripple the people and businesses of Chicago. Past demands include defunding the police – Johnson himself has said he would cut the Chicago Police budget by at least $150 million – defunding banks, and creating affordable housing. None of those things are typically negotiated into teachers union contracts, but are matters best decided by elected leaders debating their merits.

The five-year deal struck between Lightfoot and CTU in 2019 will end up costing Chicagoans at least $1.5 billion. A potential landmark deal from Johnson, with extra union perks and untraditional political provisions, could cost even more.

And perhaps the most concerning result: the precedent created when a union and City Hall meld into one. There would be no one left to represent the people.

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