Chicago Teachers Union prioritizes politics as student proficiency suffers

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
July 6, 2023

Chicago Teachers Union prioritizes politics as student proficiency suffers

The Chicago Teachers Union told lawmakers what to do over 1,360 times in just six legislative sessions. It used its powerful position to pressure the state to follow its radical politics. Here are five examples of the union placing politics over its core purpose.

Chicago Public Schools is failing kids.

As of 2022, 80% of third through eight graders couldn’t read at grade level, and 85% could not do math. Similarly, nearly 80% of 11th graders couldn’t read or do math at grade level.

That failure has been driven by the Chicago Teachers Union, whose leaders admit they are fighting for issues outside of wages and benefits. In the name of “bargaining for the common good,” they take pride in putting demands on the table that are “beyond the narrow confines of traditional bargaining” and triggering unions in other states to do so.

In addition to advocating policies that hurt kids and taxpayers, the union has pushed statewide policies – including on vaccinations, crime, forced health care and pension investments – that are irrelevant to education or the core purpose of the union and potentially polarizing to wide swaths of Illinoisans.

CTU backed denying benefits to teachers who did not get the COVID-19 vaccine. It opposed criminalizing vandalism of nuclear facilities. CTU had an opinion and used the witness slip process to publicly pressure lawmakers over 1,360 times during the six legislative sessions between 2011-2022.

The union’s political advocacy shows it is less concerned with the ability of kids to read and do math, and more concerned with its own ideological agenda. That advocacy affects residents throughout Illinois.

CTU’s stances are polarizing or unrelated to education or labor issues

The pressure CTU has applied in Springfield shows it has opposed bills aimed at helping kids master the basics of reading and math and has instead hijacked the system to turn the city’s public schools into an advocacy mechanism for a radical, progressive political movement. 

Many of the stances it took between 2011-2022 would be considered polarizing to some Illinoisans or, at the very least, unrelated to the union’s core purpose.

Here are five examples.

On vaccinations:

CTU publicly supported a bill, which passed, that returned sick leave days used by school district employees during the 2021-2022 school year if they were “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19, but did not provide such days to non-vaccinated teachers and employees. Not only did CTU take a side in the COVID vaccination debate, but it did so at the expense of some of its own members.

On crime:

CTU opposed a bipartisan bill creating a specific criminal offense for knowing damage, vandalism or destruction of critical infrastructure facilities. That would include destruction of refineries, water treatment facilities and nuclear facilities. Despite the bill bearing no direct relation to educating children or representing teachers, the union took a stand.

On health care providers’ rights:

CTU suported a bill, which passed, that undermines the rights of health care providers and facilities to conscientiously object to certain procedures, such as abortion or sterilization, by forcing them to provide patients information and/or referrals for the procedures regardless of the objection.

On pension investments:

CTU registered its opinion on multiple bills that placed the union’s political preferences above the investment strategy of the state’s pension systems, advocating for political policies to take the place of investment opportunities for the state’s retirees.

For example, the union supported a bill requiring state pension funds to divest holdings in all firearms manufacturing companies and prohibited future acquisition of such securities. It opposed a bill, which passed, requiring Illinois pension funds to divest holdings in companies that boycott Israel.

CTU advocates “bargaining for the common good”

No matter where a person stands on these issues, the bottom line is CTU actively backs policies that fall outside the traditional role of a union.

That’s by design. CTU advocates “bargaining for the common good,” which, as explained by CTU President Stacy Davis Gates, is “an intersectional feminist strategy” that is grounded in a critical analysis of the interlocking oppressions, including racism and sexism, that shape community conditions and suppress worker power and economic justice.”

The coalition named Bargaining for the Common Good, which includes Davis Gates on its advisory board, provides model demands in its materials, such as defunding campus police, prohibiting collaboration with immigration officials and the creation of municipality-specific “micro-currency.”

CTU’s movement away from education and teachers and toward unrelated, and often polarizing, demands was evident in the bills it supported or opposed between 2011-2022.

No city is safe from CTU’s influence

CTU’s influence isn’t limited to Chicago. It takes credit for triggering other teachers unions to follow its lead, going on strike to get demands met that aren’t related to education or teaching.

In Springfield, its legislative advocacy influences lawmaker decisions on bills that apply to the entire state.

Those legislative decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. CTU funds half of lawmakers in the Illinois General Assembly.

In other words, the power CTU wields doesn’t just affect Chicago.

It affects us all.

For more in this series on CTU’s legislative advocacy related to education and tax issues, see CTU told lawmakers what to do over 1,360 times in just 6 legislative sessions and Chicago Teachers Union repeatedly pushes for tax hikes in Springfield.

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