Amid a hotly contested mayoral election, friction is growing within the Chicago Teachers Union.
Specifically, a group of teachers has now filed legal action against the union, alleging union leaders are wrongly spending dues money on political organizations supporting Brandon Johnson for mayor. They said it’s not about politics, but about their contention that their own union has deceived them.
“This is not the way our union does business,” said union member Mary Esposito-Usterbowski, a leader of a faction of CTU’s Members First caucus that has opposed the union’s current leadership.
Last month, the union’s House of Delegates voted to divert $8 of each members dues each month, up to $2 million total, to political committees largely supporting Johnson for mayor.
Esposito-Usterbowski said that is a violation of the union’s bylaws, which state political contributions are voluntary and do not come from union dues. She and others representing the Members First caucus have filed an unfair labor practices charge with the state Education Labor Relations Board and want an immediate halt to the payments.
“We’re asking that (Political Action Committee) money be done voluntarily, and that dues money should go to member defense,” Esposito-Usterbowski said.
It’s an escalation of an internal feud within CTU that is spending big to help elect one of its own as mayor. Last month, WTTW News spoke with members who were upset that the union had lent $415,000 in dues money on political campaigns — without getting approval from the union’s nearly 30,000 members, who represent a broad array of viewpoints.
“Republicans, Democrats, Progressives, Libertarians, Green Party, and every one of those people have a right to be heard. And they aren’t,” said teacher Regina O’Connor.
CTU spokesperson Richard Fowler pushed back on the legal action.
“With so much at stake for our students, their classrooms and Chicago’s educational community, it is regrettable that such a frivolous matter is making headlines when this election will determine so much for this city and its working families,” Fowler said in a written statement.
Robert Bruno, director of the labor education program at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said the members have standing to file the claim with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board. But he also said he believes the union is on solid legal standing.
“As long as the House of Delegates voted on the payments, that vote represents the full membership,” Bruno said. “They can’t go to each member each time they choose to spend money.”
Esposito-Usterbowski said the union, which has spent around $3 million this election cycle to support Johnson for mayor and select candidates for City Council, is draining money meant for standard union activities.
“We want to make sure that political activities are kept separate and the money meant for members goes toward members,” Esposito-Usterbowski said.