countless times during the COVID pandemic. They have used their collective bargaining power, their political wherewithal, and even campaign spending as means of influencing certain policy decisions. That may be especially true in the state if Illinois.
Teacher unions have an enormous amount of power. This power has been put on display countless times during the COVID pandemic. They have used their collective bargaining power, their political wherewithal, and even campaign spending as means of influencing certain policy decisions. That may be especially true in the state if Illinois.
When it comes to politics, the teachers’ unions in Illinois know on which side to butter their bread – the side that spells out Democrat. The state’s top teachers’ unions have handed out over $1.5 million to Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker and Illinois top two legislative leaders, both Democrats. When you compare that with Illinois’ top two Republican legislative leaders along with the state’s former Republican Governor, you will see that those three received less than $5,000 combined from the Illinois teachers’ unions. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the Illinois legislature has been Democrat-controlled (both chambers) since 2003.
The big three in Illinois are the Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois Education Association, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Together they have used their mighty influence (i.e., cash on hand) to push the issues that directly affect school policies. They have affected mask mandates, district vaccine rules, how and when to go to remote learning, how school districts hire full-time teachers, substitute teacher requirements, and even the paid-time-off given out during the COVID pandemic.
As omicron began to spike, the teachers’ unions in Illinois had even more to say. In fact, the Chicago Teachers Union said it by not even showing up. They, and all their members, went on strike in January, telling Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Chicago Public Schools leaders, parents, and students that it was unsafe for teachers to return to the classroom. They were a no-show for five days until city leaders came to an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union, one that benefitted the union greatly. The students and families, not so much.
The Illinois teachers’ unions are a very vocal group. They speak out on “issues” at both the local and state levels to include the mask mandates and employees/student vaccine requirements. When a district judge recently decided to say that Gov. Pritzker’s school mask mandate was a “threat to keeping Illinois schools open for in-person learning” thus ruling it “null and void”, the teachers’ unions were extremely critical, and vocal, with their displeasure.
For the most part in Illinois, lawmakers have stood back while Pritzker has maneuvered the state’s response to the pandemic with numerous executive orders that include the mask mandate in all schools as well as requiring many state employees and educators to get vaccinated. It hasn’t been smooth sailing with the mandates, although the Illinois teachers’ unions have strongly backed them. Their influence has been large.
Ted Dabrowski, president of Wirepoints, is one who agrees that teachers’ unions are running the state of Illinois and many others. “Teacher unions have always had a scratch-my-back relationship with politicians, and we’ve seen that playing out in the COVID era,” Dabrowski said to the Washington Examiner. “They want more remote learning and mitigations.”
Dabrowski also noted that the Illinois teachers’ unions’ influence goes well beyond the political donations Democrats have been seeing. “They have very strong collective bargaining power and they are using that power,” he said. “The unions have oversized power over parent’s rights.” Some may say they have Democrats in their pockets. Parents sure seem to think so.
Gov. Pritzker is an independently wealthy man. Forbes has his estimated worth sitting at around $3.6 billion. So, he largely funds his own campaigns. But for some of the other powerful Illinois Democrats, the teachers’ unions are always near the top of their donor list. Of all the campaign donations the teachers’ unions dolled out, 94% went to Democrats.
This doesn’t mean Pritzker won’t take his fair share. He does. Even though he has given over $303 million to his own campaign, JB for Governor, he has also received almost $112,000 from the Illinois Education Association. That figure puts the Illinois teacher’s union in Pritzker’s top five donors. Illinois’s other powerful Democrats have received much more donation cash than Pritzker.
Don Harmon and Chris Welch are two of the more powerful Democrats in Illinois. Harmon’s Friends of Don Harmon for State Senate has already received $434,682 from the Illinois Federation of Teachers COPE and another $231,439 from the Illinois Political Action Committee for Education (I.P.A.C.E). They are the group that works to elect candidates for the Illinois Education Association teacher’s union.
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Welch’s campaign has also seen some eye-popping and wallet bursting numbers from the big three Illinois teachers’ unions. I.P.A.C.E has donated $333,800, the Illinois Federation of Teachers COPE another $318,940, and finally, the Chicago Teachers Union PAC has given $95,750. The numbers are staggering.
Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield, claims that because Democrats have more incumbents than do the Republicans, that is why the Democrats are seeing 94% of donation funds. He says that during the 2019-20 election cycle, $8.6 million was donated and of that, $8.05 went into the Democrat coffers. Again, staggering.
This is why Illinois teachers’ unions can stick mainly to education issues and come out on the other side smiling. “Within their sphere, they dominate education committees in terms of policy and they dominate the substantive conversation around education,” he said. But he also pointed out just how many layers of influence they carry.
“Teachers are significant contributors and really effective from a lobbying perspective,” he said. “That’s a big advantage. Because they have collective bargaining and the right to strike, they are much stronger. They are strong locally and strong statewide.”
What we are seeing in Illinois is just a sample of what is being seen across the nation. Teachers’ unions know how to fight to get what they want. They have deep pockets, and they know how to use them to bribe politicians, legally.