Teacher unions help shape pandemic policy in Illinois | Illinois


(The Center Square) – Teachers’ unions have used campaign spending, political organizing and collective bargaining power to influence policy decisions during the pandemic.

Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker and the state’s two top Democratic legislative leaders have received more than $1.5 million combined from the state’s major teachers’ unions.

In contrast, the state’s two top Republican legislative leaders and former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner received less than $5,000 combined.

Democrats have control both houses of the Illinois Legislature since 2003.

The Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers have used their collective influence to lobby for mask mandates, vaccination rules, remote learning, hiring practices, school requirements substitute teachers and paid time off amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chicago teachers’ union went on strike in January, arguing it was unsafe to return to classrooms as COVID-19 cases surged. Teachers eventually reached an agreement with Chicago Public School leaders and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, but the dispute cost students and parents five school days.

Pritzker vetoed House Bill 2778, which would have provided paid time off for school employees for COVID-19-related absences. The measure was passed by both legislative chambers last fall with a non-vetoing majority. However, Pritzker has worked with teachers to reach a negotiated compromise to grant such paid leave only to those who are fully vaccinated.

Teachers’ unions have also spoken out on mitigation measures in schools, both state and local across Illinois, including mask mandates and vaccine requirements. They strongly criticized the district judge’s recent decision ruling that Pritzker’s school mask warrant is “null and void”, calling it “threatens to keep Illinois schools open for in-person learning. »

Illinois lawmakers have largely taken a hands-off approach during the pandemic, letting Pritzker guide the state’s response to the pandemic through executive orders, including rules that require educators and many state employees State to Get Vaccinated for COVID-19 and Mandate the Use of Masks in Illinois Schools.

Ted Dabrowski, president of Wirepoints, said teachers’ unions have used their influence throughout the pandemic.

“Teachers’ unions have always had an unabashed relationship with politicians and we’ve seen that play out in the age of COVID,” he said. “They want more remote learning and mitigations.”

Dabrowski said the influence of teachers’ unions goes beyond political donations.

“They have very strong collective bargaining power and they use that power,” he said. “Trade unions have outsized power over parents’ rights.”

The Illinois Education Association, which represents more than 135,000 educators, did not respond to a request for comment on its influence.

Teachers’ unions are among the top donors to some of the state’s most powerful Democrats, including Gov. JB Pritzker, Senate Speaker Don Harmon, D-Oak Park; and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Chicago. In the most recent election cycle, 94% of teachers’ union campaign donations went to Democrats.

Pritzker, who Forbes estimates to have a net worth of $3.6 billion, has largely funded his own campaigns. Pritzker gave his campaign, JB for governor, a total of $303,550,034, according to campaign finance records from illinois sun. The Illinois Education Association gave JB for governor a total of $111,911, making the organization one of the top five all-time campaign donors behind the Illinois Democratic Party (1,546,601, $52), cousin Matthew Pritzker ($250,000) and investor James A. Star ($153,220). ).

Teachers’ unions have spent more on donating to Harmon and Welch over the years. The Friends of Don Harmon for the State Senate received a total of $434,682 from the Illinois Federation of Teachers COPE and $231,439.51 from IPACE, the Political Action Committee of the Illinois for Education, which works to elect candidates for the Illinois Education Association. Harmon has $12,409,142.62 in cash, according to Illinois Sunshine. A spokesperson for Harmon did not respond to a request for comment.

Welch’s campaign, The People for Emanuel “Chris” Welch, has $7,708,420.84 in cash. The major donors to the Nominating Committee are IPACE (for a total of $333,800), the Illinois Federation of Teachers COPE ($318,940), and the Chicago Teachers Union PAC ($95,750). A Welch spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

The most powerful Republicans in the state got much smaller amounts. IPACE donated a total of $500 to Elect Dan McConchie, the nominating committee for Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, according to Illinois Sunshine. IPACE donated a total of $750 to Citizens for Durkin, the nominating committee for House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs. The Illinois Federation of Teachers COPE gave Citizens for Durkin $3,500, with the most recent contribution in 2019. Like Pritzker, Rauner also primarily funded his own campaigns and received no donations from any of the two groups.

In recent election cycles, Illinois teachers’ unions have given nearly all of their political contributions to Democrats.

Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said it was partly because Democrats had more incumbents than Republicans and controlled both the Illinois House and the Senate. from Illinois. The difference was striking.

During the 2019-2020 election cycle, teachers’ unions donated $8.6 million to benefit candidates, legislative caucuses and party committees in the 2020 legislative elections. Of that $8.6 million , 94% (or $8.05 million) went to Democrats, according to Redfield’s campaign analysis. expenses. Contributions from teachers’ unions were only part of the $58.3 million that labor groups spent during the cycle. Labor groups have spent more than any other donor in recent years, including business and professional groups, political organizations, legal groups, lobbyists and government affairs groups.

Redfield said teachers’ unions tend to stick to education issues.

“In their sphere, they dominate education committees in terms of policy and they dominate the substantive conversation about education,” he said.

Redfield also said teachers’ unions have multiple levels of influence.

“Teachers are big and really effective contributors from a lobbying perspective,” he said. “That’s a big advantage. Because they have collective bargaining and the right to strike, they’re much stronger. They’re strong locally and statewide.”


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