10 Things You Didn't Know About The Chicago Teachers Union

10 Things You Didn't Know About The Chicago Teachers Union

As the Chicago Teachers Union strike persists into a second week and Mayor Emanuel seeks an injunction to get teachers back into classrooms, the discussion over Chicago’s schools continues.

What’s missing from the general discussion is whether Chicago students would be better served with or without the Chicago Teachers Union. Below are ten rarely-mentioned facts about the CTU that should have you thinking critically about that question.

  1. The CTU is a private, special interest organization. Incorporated in 1967, the CTU’s mission is “to promote union activities for teachers, career service members, and others in the area of Chicago, Illinois.” Notice there is nothing in its mission about students. It is a “labor organization,” meaning its goal lies in promoting the interests of its members. Under the tax code, the CTU is classified under section 501(c)(5), which means it is a non-profit but not tax-exempt. UPDATE: The CTU and 501(c)(5)s are indeed tax-exempt and union dues also appear to be deductible from members’ income taxes.  It is a special tax code carveout for labor unions. You can read CTU’s 2010 tax return here.
  2. The CTU owns and operates a real estate corporation. The Chicago Teachers Union Tower Corporation acquires real estate and operates a 225 unit apartment complex for current and retired union members. CTU’s president Karen Lewis also serves as the president of this corporation. It’s a great thing that CTU members pay dues to their union and can receive housing assistance, but this should give anyone pause when the union claims everything it does is “for the children.” As stated above, the union exists for its members. Again, this makes perfect sense and there is nothing wrong with it, but it is another example of where the union’s interests truly lie: with its members.
  3. The CTU is unaccountable to the public. No member of the public, much less any students, are represented within the Chicago Teachers Union. Although the public can elect members of the City Council and the mayor (who appoints members of the school board), you must be a member of the union to elect its officers or vote on a strike.
  4. Teachers who want to teach in the Chicago Public Schools must join pay the CTU. Whether a teacher wants to join the CTU or not, current law forces teachers to pay union dues money. Regardless of a teacher’s personal political views, he or she must support the CTU. UPDATE: I’ve been informed there is a difference between membership dues and fees CPS teachers must pay CTU, by law, even if they do not become CTU members. This is called an agency fee. Regardless of the name of the payment, all non-charter CPS teachers must pay the CTU whether they desire a vote in the union or not. That is a fundamental violation of the right to free association.
  5. The CTU uses government as a tool to collect union dues money. This is part and parcel to the point above. Instead of asking teachers to pay dues voluntarily, the CTU has secured the privilege of having the Chicago Public Schools withhold union dues money from teachers’ paychecks only to send that money to the CTU’s bank account. This means the government for which every citizen of Chicago pays helps a private organization raise funds for its special interest political activities.
  6. The CTU spends most of its money on political activities. Forget benefits to members or apartments, even contract negotiations. In 2010, the CTU transferred $13,070,560–the largest single expense–to “affiliated organizations.” According to the CTU’s website, “Chicago Teachers Union affiliations include the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL), the Illinois State Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (ISFL-CIO), the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).” Each of these groups are highly political organizations, donating millions to elect politicians that support their special interests. For example, the American Federation of Teachers is a national private special interest that has given $35,389,110 to candidates for government office since 1989. Incidentally, 86 percent of AFT’s candidate recipients were Democrats and zero were Republican. In the chance there are any Republicans teaching in the Chicago Public Schools, they are forced to donate to candidates they would not choose to support voluntarily, candidates whose politics are different than their own.
  7. The CTU actively blocks the creation of independent schools. Every time a vote is called to open more charter schools or create a system for poor families to receive an amount from the government to pay for private school tuition, the CTU is at the forefront of the opposition. And, because they are so well-funded and support so many politicians, they win almost every time. When the CTU stands in the way of school choice, they are preventing students in underperforming schools from going somewhere else for an education.
  8. The CTU makes no distinction between teachers and political activists. Only when teachers are teaching are they teachers. When teachers are not teaching, they are people just like you and me, political opinions and all. When teachers march on the street, demanding things of their fellow citizens, they are political activists. Everyone respects teachers, but not everyone agrees with their political beliefs. Making this distinction is key for understanding how best to approach the problem of poorly performing government schools.
  9. The CTU makes no distinction between the vast majority of great teachers and the tiny minority of poorly-performing teachers. In the CTU’s eyes, every teacher is the same. When bargaining for a collective employment contract, the CTU treats every brand-new teacher the same; every teacher with a master’s degree the same; and every teacher with 20 years of work experience the same. There are many combinations, but none takes into account the ways in which a young teacher may inspire his students in the classroom or a five-year teaching veteran with just a bachelor’s degree may teach her students in math better than a 30-year veteran with three master’s degrees. The bottom line is the CTU creates a situation in which good teachers may earn too little and and poorly-performing teachers may earn too much.
  10. The CTU is a private monopoly. Because every teacher in the Chicago Public Schools must, by force of law, join pay the CTU, this single private organization can call a strike that removes all teachers from 86 percent of public schools. This not only inconveniences parents and causes hundreds of thousands of students to miss classroom time, but CTU’s monopolistic privileges make it nearly impossible for most students to learn formally elsewhere. The CTU strike is highly unethical behavior. Furthermore, the CTU protects its monopoly jealously and refuses to return teachers to classrooms until its political demands–which include spending a substantial sum of taxpayer money–are met. The CTU is therefore making political decisions for Chicago without the input of voters, creating a most undemocratic situation.

Everyone wants every child to have a great education. But no matter how ingenious the solution, there will never be an educational system that serves every student perfectly 100 percent of the time. We are left with needing to find the least imperfect solution.

Everyone seems to agree the status quo isn’t the best we can do. So what to do? Do we continue down the path of allowing a monopoly to offer exclusive teaching services with meager results or do we permit many alternatives to emerge to fill students’ various needs? Some alternatives will succeed and others will fail, but diversity in schooling is the only way to give children a chance to escape from schools that aren’t serving them well.

Why put all our school eggs in one basket? The time is now to give the CTU a run for its money. The time is now to give Chicago families true school choice.


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  • Give CTU a run for its money? Who is going to be doing the chasing? Certainly not Rahm: he is beholden to CTU for election dollars.

    What is really sad is that the striking teachers actually mouth the "it's for the kids" BS that they think the majority of citizens are dumb enough to swallow.

    School choice will never happen in Illinois. Not until the entire state defaults, and that may be coming soon.

  • The CTU a special interest group? How shocking! Next you'll be telling us that there are things like PAC's and a street called K in Washington.

  • I'm always amazed that when I point out to people that unions are the only government protected monopolies in the country they look at me like I'm from another planet.

  • Eventually everyone who lives in chicago will be paying more in taxes because of the CTU

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    I am not surprised with what the Union is able to do. Not at all.

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