Chicago Teachers Union sees plenty of scandals in 2023

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
December 25, 2023

Chicago Teachers Union sees plenty of scandals in 2023

The Chicago Teachers Union and its president – Stacy Davis Gates – have offered lots of controversy this year. Their lack of accountability and politicking have consequences: residents suffer, students can’t read or do math at grade level.

The tenure of Stacy Davis Gates as president of the Chicago Teachers Union has been tainted by hypocrisy and controversy. That isn’t just an internal union issue.

The union’s decisions directly impact residents. The union spent millions to get its former employee Brandon Johnson elected mayor. Johnson is beholden to the union for his political career, and that means CTU will in effect be sitting across the table from itself during negotiations for its new 2024 contract. Residents will be on the hook for whatever that contract costs.

The union’s decisions also directly impact students. The union fought to strip away educational options for lower-income minority students. Its lobbying in Springfield affects students both within Chicago Public Schools and across the state. While CTU is busy advocating for its political agenda, students within CPS are struggling. The vast majority of third- through eighth-grade students can’t do math or read at grade level.

Obviously, the union’s decisions directly affect its members. CTU has failed to provide required annual audits to members and had to raise its dues $160 for 2024 – most likely to make up for its financial missteps. Yet it spends less than 17 cents of each dollar representing those members.

As a powerful political force in both Chicago and Springfield, residents across the state should be concerned about the hypocrisy and controversies that rocked the union in 2023.

Here are some of the top stories from this year.

Davis Gates placed her son in private school while crushing educational options for low-income children

While advocating the end of Illinois’ only school choice program – a program that allowed private donors to get a tax credit for funding scholarships for low-income children – Davis Gates’ hypocrisy was exposed when it was revealed she had placed her own son in private school. In defending her decision, she stated she and her husband made the choice “so [their son] could live out his dream of being a soccer player while also having a curriculum that can meet his social and emotional needs.” Her advocacy against the scholarship program effectively crushed the dreams of more than 9,600 low-income children who will lose the scholarships provided by the now defunct program. Davis Gates’ income is over $289,000, or 543% more than the families she fought to deny scholarships.

Just 17% of CTU’s spending in 2023 was on representing its members

Representing members should be the core purpose of a union. But just 17% of CTU’s spending during its 2023 fiscal year was on “representational activities,” according to the union’s filing with the U.S. Department of Labor. The rest was on administration, politics and other union leadership priorities. Yet when questioned by a member about the union’s failure to provide annual audits for years, as required by its own internal rules, Davis Gates attacked the member via social media.

CTU raised member dues by 13% following its 2023 fiscal year

Following a year of deficit spending, increased spending on politics, and decreased overall spending on member representation, CTU raised its annual dues by over $160. Teachers within CPS can expect to pay more than $1,400 this year.

Davis Gates was taking a homeowner’s tax break on an Indiana property she didn’t live in

Davis Gates pushes for the wealthy to pay their “fair share,” but she was receiving an Indiana property tax deduction reserved for owners who actually occupy their homes, according to public records obtained by the Illinois Policy Institute. She should have been paying four times more in property taxes. The county has now removed the deduction and is seeking back taxes and a penalty. She missed the Dec. 8 deadline for paying those back taxes.

Davis Gates owes the city nearly $5,600 for utilities

Davis Gates started a payment plan for $5,100 in water, sewer and garbage bills in July 2023 – but almost immediately defaulted, according to records obtained by the Illinois Policy Institute. She now owes at least $5,579. In the meantime, Chicago has seen $6.4 billion in unpaid fees, fines and other debts pile up since 1990, with Comptroller Chasse Rehwinkel saying the city’s collection efforts are focusing on debt less than five years old owed by those with the means but who are skirting responsibility and “hurting the residents of the city of Chicago.”

CTU ran its first reported deficit under the leadership of Davis Gates

CTU for the first time reported spending more money than it took in during its 2023 fiscal year, according to the union’s report with the U.S. Department of Labor. Specifically, CTU reported receipts of $35.5 million in 2023. But it spent nearly $500,000 more than that, reporting almost $36 million in disbursements. It underscores members’ concerns about union leaders failing to properly handle union funds or to provide required reporting to members.

CTU bankrolled Brandon Johnson’s mayoral election without consulting members

CTU funneled over $2.6 million into the campaign coffers of Brandon Johnson, one of its former employees. Its spending was met with internal criticism from members, potentially violating its own rules by using member dues for politics without their approval. The action prompted an unfair labor practice complaint against the union.

CTU spent nearly three times more on politics in 2023 under the leadership of Davis Gates

CTU spent more money on “political activities and lobbying” in its 2023 fiscal year than it did in any previous year since it started filing federal reports with the U.S. Department of Labor. Specifically, the union nearly tripled what it spent on politics in 2023, from just over $1 million in 2022 to over $3 million in 2023. At least a portion of its 2023 political spending came from member dues without consulting the members themselves. 

CTU records revealed the union paid Brandon Johnson while he was campaigning for mayor

Records filed by CTU in October with the U.S. Department of Labor show the union paid Brandon Johnson $75,014 during its fiscal year, which did not end until June 30, 2023. Johnson announced his bid for mayor on Oct. 27, 2022. Unless he was paid his entire CTU salary of $75,000 from July 1 through Oct. 31 – at more than $18,500 a month – CTU continued to pay him while he was busy campaigning. That’s in addition to the more than $2.6 million CTU funneled to his election committee.

Nearly 500 educational employees left CTU during its 2023 fiscal year

At least 489 education employees stopped affiliating with the union in 2023 compared to 2022, as reported in the union’s report with the U.S. Department of Labor. And because the union’s federal filing covers just July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2023, those numbers don’t include any teachers who left the union in August 2023 – the union’s opt-out “window” – following CTU’s campaign spending debacle.

Members concerned with the union’s major missteps in 2023 should demand the accountability required under the union’s own internal rules. And residents and parents should keep careful watch on what CTU pushes in 2024. Chances are, it won’t be in their best interests.

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