Chicago Teachers Union, affiliates spend nearly $2.5M to put Johnson in mayoral run-off

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
March 1, 2023

Chicago Teachers Union, affiliates spend nearly $2.5M to put Johnson in mayoral run-off

The Chicago Teachers Union’s funding of the Brandon Johnson campaign for Chicago mayor has fueled backlash from members. As one of its own employees, Johnson has banked more than $390,000 as CTU’s “legislative coordinator” in the past 5 years.

The Chicago Teachers Union is on its way to “take over running the city government,” as current Mayor Lori Lightfoot predicted in 2021.

Brandon Johnson, CTU’s chosen candidate for mayor, surged in recent days to take second place in Chicago’s Feb. 28 election, with 20% of the vote. A run-off between Johnson and frontrunner Paul Vallas, who received 34% of the vote, will take place April 4.

The vast majority of Johnson’s campaign war chest came from unions, and particularly CTU and its affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Between Jan. 1, 2022, and Feb. 8, 2023, CTU and its political action committee funneled over $931,000 into Johnson’s campaign, according to records with the Illinois State Board of Elections. AFT’s PAC contributed more than $1.1 million, and IFT’s PAC spent over $440,000.

Just 5% of Johnson’s funding was from individuals or non-union entities.

CTU’s spending in the campaign – which is more than triple the $291,000 it poured into Toni Preckwinkle’s failed mayoral bid in 2019 – has been met with internal criticism from members.

Members started questioning CTU’s failure to get approval from its House of Delegates before allegedly borrowing $415,000 from its union operating funds and transferring the money to its political action committee, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.

CTU claimed the money will be repaid, but regardless the loan itself might be illegal. It also claimed it would repay a loan in 2015, but failed to do so.

It’s clear CTU is going all-in on the Johnson campaign, regardless of member backlash. Instead of listening to members’ concerns, it doubled down, sending out a scathing memo criticizing dissenting members.

After all, if Johnson wins, CTU will be negotiating its next contract with one of its own activists.

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. CTU would arguably be the boss.

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.

Johnson’s election night speech also highlighted CTU’s role in his mayoral bid. After thanking God and his family, his third priority in giving thanks went to the city’s government unions, including CTU.

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

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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