Since the emergence of Karen Lewis as its president seven years ago, the Chicago Teachers Union has emerged as both a leading foe against systemic reform efforts in the Second City and as a key force among hardcore progressive traditionalists who thought American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s triangulation efforts conceded too much to reformers they oppose.
But these days, with Lewis recovering from a minor stroke and the union reeling from a string of political defeats that date back to its unsuccessful effort to oust Rahm Emanuel from City Hall, the AFT’s second-largest local would seem to have done little more than constantly call on the ouster of Forrest Claypool as the Second City district’s chief executive, complaining about the district’s proposed budget for 2018-2019, and fighting efforts to overhaul the virtually-busted defined-benefit pension it controls. But that’s not what the union’s 2014-2015 filing with the Internal Revenue Service — and that of its foundation arm — shows.
Chicago Teachers Union poured $1 million into its political action committee in 2014-2015, a four-fold increase over what it poured into the affiliate in 2013-2014. Of course, that year, the union (along with national AFT) was spending heavily on its effort to oust Emanuel as mayor, an effort that ended in the sound defeat of its candidate, Jesus (Chuy) Garcia. CTU also spent $245,285 on polling services from Celinda Lake’s eponymous firm; the outfit is the pollster of choice for the AFT and its units in the effort to maintain the Big Two teachers’ union’s influence.
The even bigger political spend came through Chicago Teachers Union’s foundation, which has become a key platform for the union’s influence-buying efforts. As with the AFT, the union thinks it can use its wallet to co-opt progressive and grassroots organizations in the Second City.
The foundation gave out $1.9 million in 2014-2015, according to its filing with the IRS, a 92 percent increase over the previous period. Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, the progressive outfit which is also a vassal of the national AFT, received $60,000 from the foundation in 2014-5015, while Action Now Institute (which organizes marches with CTU and its allies among public-sector unions) was given $35,000. The union’s foundation also gave $35,000 to Pilsen Alliance, another loud and vocal backer of CTU’s opposition to Emanuel’s regime, and tossed $5,000 to Arise Chicago, which works on organizing emigres and churches around a progressive agenda.
As you would expect, CTU Foundation poured much of its money into the Second City’s many neighborhood associations. For good reason: Since many of them lack the cash, meeting spaces, and other resources they need to conduct business (and reformers are often unwilling to help out), CTU and its foundation can leverage the grants to win them over to its opposition to systemic reform.
The foundation gave out $35,000 grants to the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, and the westside-based Blocks Together. Reaching onto the state level, the foundation gave $35,000 to Community Organizing and Family Issues, which works on parent organizing, and gave $50,000 to the University of Illinois’ foundation, likely to support the school of labor relations on its Urbana-Champaign campus; one result can be seen a ode to the union’s 2012 strike against the Second City district written last year by the center’s resident scholars, Robert Bruno and Steven Ashby.
The union foundation’s biggest donations in 2014-2015 were to its sister unit, the Children & Teachers’ Foundation of Chicago Teachers Union (to the tune of $250,000) and to the Du Sable Museum of African American History ($100,000). Another $100,000 went to Network for Public Education, the outfit headed up by once-respectable education historian (and Lewis pal) Diane Ravitch; that donation is more than the union gave individually to any of the neighborhood associations from which it buys alliances, reminding all of us that one of Lewis’ long-term goals is to gain national influence over the direction of teachers’ unions and public-sector labor.
None of these donations took a lot out of CTU Foundation. It generated $43.1 million in 2014-2015, a 43-fold increase over the previous year, likely from the sale of more real estate and investments. It ended up with a surplus of $41.1 million, a 161-fold increase over the previous year. With some $54 million on the books (three times asset levels in 2013-2014), the foundation will have plenty of cash from which the union can use for influence-buying for years to come.
As for the parent union itself? It generated $26.6 million in 2014-2015, a slight decrease over levels during the previous year. This included $2.7 million from the AFT’s state affiliate as well as $229,431 from AFT national itself. [National AFT reports that it gave $499,983 to CTU and its political action committee that year as part of its big spend in support of CTU’s unsuccessful effort to oust Emanuel.]
The union’s expenses of $30.7 million in 2014-2015 was 10 percent higher than in the previous period. As a result of the increased expenses, the union lost $821,421 versus a surplus of $2.3 million in 2013-2014. One of the more-curious spends: Some $179,449 with Robin Potter & Associates, a law firm founded by the mother of Jackson Potter, a longtime ally of Lewis who cofounded the CORE coalition that dominates CTU (and to which Lewis belongs). Potter himself is a staff coordinator for the union. The firm itself came on to the vendor rolls soon after Lewis took control of the union. Keeping it in the family, I guess.
Of course, Lewis, the union’s president (who we here hope is recovering from her illness and keep her in our prayers), made sure she got paid real nice. She collected $145,812 from the union in 2014-2015, slightly less than she was paid the year before. Still, she is still among the top five percent of wage earners in the United States. Add in the $62,207 Lewis collected from the AFT’s Illinois Federation of Teachers in 2015 (she has since collected $68,590 from the affiliate in 2016) and the $7,664 she got from the national AFT that year (she’s collected $1,314 from national since then) and she was compensated to the tune of $215,683 in 2014-2015, slightly less than Emanuel’s salary of $216,210.
[Let’s also note that none of these numbers include any salary she may still collect from Chicago’s traditional school district even though she is no longer working in the classroom. Add that in and Lewis is likely earning nearly $300,000 a year.]
The rest of Chicago Teachers leadership also did well. Lewis’ number two, Jesse Sharkey, collected $97,994 that year while number three Michael Brunson was paid $134,712 in the same period. The staff also did well. Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, who handles teacher professional development for the union (which, oddly enough, is under the union’s foundation), picked up $254,219, while Sara Eschevarria, the union’s top organizer, was paid $167,787. Michael Baldwin, the union’s finance director, collected $151,516 for his work.
It’s good to work for the teachers’ union, especially in a city in which the median household income is $55,775 a year. Of course, for the rank-and-file, which merely got a 4.5 percent increase over the next two years as part of a contract negotiated last year, they have to wonder again what are they getting for their money.
Of course, you can peruse CTU’s IRS filing and that of the foundation for yourself. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on NEA and AFT affiliate spending.