How Chicago Teachers Union sold $50M high-rise, hid cash from oversight
Chicago Teachers Union leaders made nearly $50 million selling property paid for with union member dues, only to shuffle the proceeds to a charity with less oversight. Members are voting May 20 for transparency from new leaders.
Chicago Teachers Union leadership made nearly $50 million in 2014 selling Fewkes Tower, a high–rise built by the union decades earlier to provide affordable housing and services to the city’s retired educators.
Few retirees used Fewkes, so union officers sold it. Those same officers doubled as directors of the CTU Foundation at the time and deposited $8.1 million of the money from the sale into the public charity espoused to help struggling teachers.
Those leaders were members of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, who campaigned on increasing “transparency” and now face an election May 20 in which they are being accused of thwarting transparency. They told members the proceeds from the union-owned property sale would be better used for broader charitable and educational purposes.
But a look back through the CTU Foundation’s annual spending – which leaders are not required to publish for union members – shows hundreds of thousands in spending each year on community groups aligned with the union’s progressive agenda.
In 2019 alone, the CTU Foundation Inc. distributed $560,750 in grants to 33 different local and national organizations. No reports are available yet for 2020 through 2022, despite the annual federal requirement.
Calls for greater transparency by union leadership have grown recently as the Members First caucus mounted a challenge to the incumbent CORE caucus, which oversaw the Fewkes sale. Members First argues the union should refocus its efforts on financially supporting members and students rather than funding political campaigns.
CTU has spent over $2.5 million on political activities and lobbying in the past three years, according to reports the union filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. Its parent union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, likewise has a history of heavy political spending.
The election comes on the heels of three work stoppages in just three school years, with four-term president Jessie Sharkey at the helm. While Sharkey is not running again, current CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates is running to take his place for the next three years on behalf of CORE.
Members First candidates argue CORE’s militancy has tarnished CTU’s reputation. A third caucus – Respect, Educate, Advocate and Lead – is also running a slate of candidates, but REAL does not criticize CTU’s repeated strikes in its platform.
Amendment 1 on the ballot in November would give union bosses the right to routinely declare strikes over a limitless number of topics on their political agendas. CTU has already made threats as they sought concessions on housing, immigration, “restorative justice,” wealth redistribution and defunding the police. CORE leaders also bragged about spreading the gospel of strikes to teachers unions across the nation.
Members First has criticized current CTU leadership for using strikes as the weapon of choice rather than as a last resort.
Amendment 1 would make Illinois the only state to give constitutional backing to public union militancy, and essentially keep state lawmakers and voters from pulling back on those powers. None of the states bordering Illinois allow teachers to strike.
CTU’s members on May 20 have a major decision to make: Three more years of CORE and its strikes and political agenda, or change direction and focus.