Big Tent Ideas

MAILEE SMITH: Major Teachers Union Wants To Cement Its Grip Over Blue City

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Mailee Smith Director of labor policy and staff attorney at the Illinois Policy Institute.
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After having walked out on students five times since 2012, it’s clear leaders at the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) — the city’s most powerful political machine — value progressive politics over what is best for its members and students.

CTU, like other government unions across the country, has adopted “bargaining for the common good,” which pushes for political, often divisive provisions to be placed directly into union contracts. From demanding “climate justice” to abortion access, CTU’s leaders have joined the hordes of woke progressive activists.

In a 142-page leaked document, CTU outlines hundreds of new proposed demands for their next contract, including 41% raises, removing school resource officers from schools and concealing information concerning student gender and sexuality from parents.

And for the first time, the union is demanding collective bargaining agreements over Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investing and, in particular, an ESG takeover of its pension fund.

They’ve called for the school board of Chicago Public Schools to collaborate with the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago “to identify and move away from any investments of bargaining unit employees’ deferred compensation that are contributing to climate change and other forces that are harming our students and communities and put our money towards financially sound investments that further an equitable transition to a green future.”

The union is also demanding investments in affordable “green social housing.”

Rather than prioritizing investments that provide the most financial return, unions are hijacking the process to push the best political returns. ESG funds consistently underperform funds that seek to maximize financial returns, according to an I4AW report.

The lower returns of ESGs damage pension funds. Yet, union leaders don’t care because the burden falls on taxpayers to pay more to keep them whole.

CTU’s ability to make ESG contract demands, which appear so extraordinarily outside the scope of typical bargaining, didn’t just happen overnight. In a $16 million effort in 2022, CTU and its union allies in Illinois succeeded in passing an amendment to the state constitution that allows government unions to bargain over virtually anything while maintaining a permanent right to strike to get those demands met.

What’s more, if a union doesn’t like a state or local law, it can bargain something different into its contract and override the law. Whatever is in the union contract dominates.

That ensures a union can remain a political player without having to spend money on elections or on issue campaigns. Two other states — Pennsylvania and California — are already considering similar amendments.

In 2023, CTU and its allies bankrolled Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson — one of CTU’s former employees — into the city’s highest office. CTU itself spent nearly $2.3 million to get Johnson elected. More recently, the union poured at least $400,000 into the political committee supporting Johnson’s top initiative, a real estate transfer tax hike that failed at the ballot box.

Now CTU expects Johnson to kowtow to its agenda.

In a statement sent to members, CTU said, “We begin this contract negotiation process with a vision for the future of Chicago Public Schools shared by our mayor,” noting various union members served on the mayor’s transition team and helped draft his education transition report.

With a “union brother and educator as mayor,” one of the CTUs attorneys noted she is hoping for “a more collaborative process.”

State and local government leaders around the country, particularly those in pension-troubled cities and states, should take note of CTU’s strategy: Shore up control over taxpayers through state law, bankroll a union employee into office and hijack the collective bargaining process to make demands that push the union’s political agenda — not the members’ best interests.

And certainly not the best interests of taxpayers who will be left to foot the bill of any pension shortfalls caused by ESG demands.

All eyes should be watching CTU’s negotiations this year. What happens with ESGs and other rabidly political demands could be coming to a city near you.

Mailee Smith is the senior director of labor policy and staff attorney at the Illinois Policy Institute.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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