Johnson campaign up to $5.6M from teachers unions after another big donation

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
March 29, 2023

Johnson campaign up to $5.6M from teachers unions after another big donation

Teachers unions have already bankrolled most of Brandon Johnson’s campaign for Chicago mayor, and the American Federation of Teachers just directed another $500,000 to his war chest.

America’s most militant teachers unions aren’t messing around in the Chicago mayoral election: More than 93% of Brandon Johnson’s campaign has been funded by unions, with teachers unions funding 62%.

With the election just days away, the American Federation of Teachers has funneled another $500,000 to Johnson’s war chest, according to filings with the Illinois State Bord of Elections.

That brings AFT’s total contributions to nearly $2.2 million.

That’s in addition to the nearly $2.3 million the Chicago Teachers Union has given to Johnson’s campaign, and $1.1 million from other teachers unions, including over $940,000 from the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

The total teacher union funding of Johnson’s campaign to date: nearly $5.6 million.

Compare that to the 2019 election, when AFT, IFT and CTU gave less than $500,000 – combined – to candidate Toni Preckwinkle’s failed Chicago mayoral campaign.

So what makes this election so different, that it has teachers unions spending millions and, in the case of CTU, even violating its own internal rules to use member dues for political purposes?

Johnson is a CTU organizer, and getting him into City Hall means CTU dominance over Chicago ahead of the next contract negotiations.

CTU wasn’t happy its chosen candidate lost to Lightfoot in 2019. Since then, the union has routinely butted heads with current Mayor Lori Lightfoot, walking out three times in three school years and leaving 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.

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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