These days haven’t exactly been good for Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis or the American Federation of Teachers local over which she presides. While the fire-band herself is in better health than she was this time last year, the union has dealt with a string of defeats that include an unsuccessful effort to oust Rahm Emanuel as the Second City’s mayor that cost CTU and its national parent $1.4 million (not including dues payments supposedly slated for so-called representational activities). As a result of this failure, along with the likelihood that the mayor will reduce the city’s payroll in order to deal with both a massive teachers’ pension shortfall and the battle between Gov. Bruce Rauner and state legislators over the 2015-2016 budget, CTU is warning its members to save up 25 percent of their paychecks for a teachers’ strike the union is likely timing for early next year.

wpid-threethoughslogoBut as a Dropout Nation analysis of CTU’s filing with the Internal Revenue Service shows, a strike isn’t going to hurt Lewis’ pockets very much at all.

Lewis collected $145,918 from the AFT unit in 2014. This is a 6.6 percent increase over the previous year. But as you already know, this isn’t the only check Lewis collects. She also collected $67,186 from the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the AFT’s Prairie State affiliate, as one of its vice presidents. That’s a 4.2 percent increase over her pay from the unit in 2013. Lewis also collected $207 from AFT national in 2014-2015, more than the big fat zero she got in the previous year. [According to the national union’s 2014-2015 filing, it paid Lewis $7,664.] Lewis didn’t earn any money from Chicago’s district payroll.

Altogether, Lewis made $213,311 last year. Not one thing wrong with it. But given Lewis’ penchant for class warfare rhetoric and accusing reformers of being plutocrats, it is amazing that her income puts her in the top five percent of income earners in the United States (defined as making more than $175,817, according to the Internal Revenue Service), and not exactly the paragon of  progressive virtue she has long made herself out to be. In fact, Lewis’ compensation is five times higher than Chicago’s median family income of $47,270, as well as more than the $216,210 earned by Emanuel last year.

Of course, Lewis’ wealth extends beyond compensation. The Dartmouth grad owns a swank condo in Kenwood, a neighborhood that was also home to Obama before he became president. She also owns vacation homes in Hawaii and Union Peer, Mich., where Emanuel also owns a house. Lewis will also get a nice annuity from the Second City’s teachers’ pension, too. Simply put, Lewis is rolling better than many Americans and likely doing better financially than many school reformers.
Again, none of this is bad. But she should look in the mirror before complaining about school reformers of means attempting to influence the direction of American public education — especially since CTU (along with other AFT and NEA locals) still have strong, though declining, influence over education policy and practice. Given that Lewis, along with union leaders and staff, won’t suffer any reduction in pay as a result of a work stoppage (and can easily save up 25 percent thanks to her nice checks), the union’s call for rank-and-file to save up 25 percent of their income just comes off as very Marie Antoinette. They shall eat brioche, I guess.
Meanwhile her fellow CTU players are also collecting good pay. Jesse Sharkey, who stood in for Lewis last year during her illness, collected $98,717 from the union last year, a 5.5. percent increase over the previous year; he also collected $3,300 from the Illinois affiliate, giving him total compensation of $102,017. Michael Brunson, who is the union’s recording secretary, picked up $128,741 from the union, an 11.8 percent increase over the previous year; he also got $5,543 from IFT, giving him $134,214 for the year. And the union’s financial secretary, Kristine Mayle, was paid $102,036, an 8.1 percent increase over 2013; she also collected $4,075 from IFT last year, giving her $106,112 that year.
The Chicago AFT’s staff was also paid really well. Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, the administrator for the union, was the highest-paid person in the union, collecting $233,071 in 2014 (or 9.5 percent more than in the previous year). Other well-paid staffers include health and benefits czar Annette Rizzo ($205,221), Field Service Director Sara Echevarria (who pulled down $160,272), and Field Service Representative Walter Taylor ($167,823). All in all, it’s good to work for CTU.
The union itself generated $30.1 million in 2014, slightly less than its revenues in the previous year. This includes $205,444 doled out by AFT national into the union in 2014 as well as $2.6 million from IFT’s coffers. [As Dropout Nation reported last month, AFT poured $499,983 into the union and its political action committee in 2014-2015.] Even with all the pay increases being doled around, CTU still managed to generate a surplus (or as companies would call it, a profit) of $2.3 million, double levels in 2013. Unlike many of its fellow AFT locals, CTU managed to reduce its liabilities by 25 percent (from $7.6 million to $5.7 million) within the last year. Of course, you can peruse CTU’s IRS filing for your own purposes.
As always, the issue has less to do with Lewis’ earnings or that of her fellow colleagues, than with the fact that they oppose systemic reform efforts that are helping Second City children while pushing for practices that would harm them. As Lewis made clear three years ago during the Chicago AFT’s month-long strike — and continues to remind all of us with her efforts to stop the expansion of charter schools — Lewis has long ago shown that she is less-interested in improving the futures of Second City children than in perpetuating the failed policies behind the city’s (and the nation’s) education crisis. For all of Lewis’ rhetoric, she and her union is hardly interested in helping poor and minority children — especially those who are black like her — actually gain the knowledge they need to emerge from poverty into the middle class.
Meanwhile CTU’s talk of a strike does little to help rank-and-file members, including younger teachers who must deal with the long-term consequences of the union’s and Chicago city government’s failures to properly address the virtually-insolvent pension. After all, CTU holds eight of the 12 seats on the pension’s board, and could have pushed both Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard M. Daley, and state legislators to make sure that the city contributed regularly into the pension. That Lewis skips past this fact and complains about proposals from Emanuel to reduce salaries by as much as seven percent in order to improve the district’s finances (as well as pay the pension) betrays the union’s concerns when it comes to the retirements and welfare of those forced to pay into it.
The children will lose out if CTU launches another strike, and so will high-quality teachers forced to pay into the union’s coffers. But at least Lewis is rolling in the dough — and will do so until someone ousts her.