Teacher Union Aims to Cut Perks

When it comes to doling out outrageous salaries and benefits, the Chicago Teachers Union once took a back seat to few. Some of that is now changing, since a new leadership took office at the CTU July 1, 2010, but some can't be changed because of ongoing union contracts covering many of those who work at CTU.

Marilyn Stewart didn't have to pray and put out her hands to beg for money during her years as Chicago Teachers Union President. By the time she was voted out of office in June 2010, Stewart was being paid more than $200,000 if you combined the pay of $180,000 for her full-time job as CTU president and her pay of nearly $95,000 for her part-time job as secretary treasurer of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Because of the inflated salary and benefits she was getting during her time in union office, Stewart is now receiving a pension of $10,251 per month, or $123,000 per year, according to Chicago Teachers Pension Fund records. Substance photo from the January 2008 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education by George N. Schmidt.On July 1, 2010, Karen Lewis and the newly elected CTU officers took office after a grueling two-stage election fight against the former leadership. Lewis and her slate representing the "Caucus of Rank and File Educators" (CORE) were swept into office following a five-way race on May 21 that resulted in a runoff between CORE candidates and Marilyn Stewart's United Progressive Caucus. The runoff was held on June 11, 2010, and resulted in a landslide victory for Karen Lewis and CORE.

Now it is possible to look back as how the former CTU leaders were doing while Marilyn Stewart held power in the union (from August 2004 through June 30, 2010). Federal documents on the pay of former union officials are now publicly available.

Former CTU President Marilyn Stewart took the top prize with her $178,116 salary in 2009 — coupled with her part-time $95,000 salary as an officer (secretary treasurer) of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

And Marilyn Stewart wasn't even the top paid Chicago teacher union official that year.

Chicago Teachers Union Field Rep Nick Cannella (above, during a February 2010 protest at the Chicago Board of Education) was being paid even more than President Marilyn Stewart. Cannella is now receiving a pension of $9,154 per month, or $109,854 per year, according to Chicago Teachers Pension Fund records. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.That honor went to retired field rep Nick Cannella, who took home $186,404 from the CTU. Cannella's $186,000 was followed by former recording secretary Mary McGuire at $182,952. The other UPC union official salaries listed on the IRS 990 tax form include former financial secretary Mark Ochoa (at $170,024), former field rep Molly Carroll at $168,239, and former treasurer Linda Porter at $166,169. Most of the former CTU officers are now retired and drawing pensions form the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF) based on their final salaries as union officials. Those pensions will be the subject of future Substance articles.

However, the real goodies were the perks and benefits bestowed upon union officials. Nowhere is this more evident than in the compensation packages paid out to the officers and field representatives — which total up to more than a quarter of a million dollars for some.

Current field reps such as Ted Hajaharis ($140,165), Nate Dickson ($140,165), Marsha Allen ($140,165), James Riley ($137,380), Anothony Lopez ($140,165) and Gregg Cox ($140,165) earn even more. Their compensation packages include a $240 per month cell phone allowance, a $1,000 per month car allowance, 85% reinbursement for car expenses and, the kicker - a 21 percent annuity on top of their regular teacher pension plan.

The current field reps signed this deal just before the UPC lost its first election to Debby Lynch and PACT in 2001. Just before Tom Reece left office as CTU President in July 2001, the field reps got a union, and since then they have been represented by the Teamsters Local 743.

The Teamsters just endorsed mayoral candidate Rahm Emmanuel, who told the Chicago Federation of Labor to be prepared for current pensions to be cut.

These salaries and perks have been paid out during a time when the Chicago Teachers Union lost over 2,000 jobs due to the school closings and proliferation of charter schools which it had done very little to oppose. Between the time Marilyn Stewart first took office in August 2004 and the day she left office in June 2010, the number of charter schools in Chicago increase from about a dozen to more than 90. To this day, most of the teaching jobs at those charter schools are not union jobs, despite the claim by Stewart that the union would organize the charter school teachers. The jobs that were once done by union teachers — CTU members — in union schools and public buildings are now being done by non-union teachers in buildings that were once public schools.

It reminds one of a bank that took 25 percent of the bailout money it received from the federal government to pay executive bonuses, according to Public Citizen, a watchdog group that lobbies to cut corporate influence in politics.

The newly elected CTU leadership team headed by Karen Lewis has started to take aim at these perks. The 21 percent annuity plan has been eliminated for union employees who already pay into the regular teacher pension plan and decreased to 9% for those with no defined pension contribution plan. During the years before Marilyn Stewart, the only CTU workers who received the annuity were those who weren't allowed to pay into the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, most because they had been hired by the union from outside and were not on leave from regular teaching jobs. All four of the current officers and most of the union staff are on leave from their teaching jobs, and the union continues to pay into the CTPF on their behalf.

Lewis and the leadership also stated the $1,000 per month car allowance has been eliminated (where possible) and replaced with the standard IRS reinbursement rate of 51 cents per mile.

Union employees can no longer cash in earned vacation time like before, and the cell phone allowance has been cut from $240 per month to $100 per month.

Severance pay has also been eliminated. Severance pay had totaled up to four weeks of pay, in individual contracts. In some cases, going back years, CTU workers were paid "severance" if they moved from one job category to another!

When the new CTU officers were first sworn in last summer, they announced they would cut the officer salaries to what they would earn as teachers according to their years of service and degrees earned, but prorate it to a 12 month salary, which would add an extra two months of pay which teachers don't receive during the summer. The same formula has been applied to all CTU workers hired by the new leadership.

However, CTU salaries are still quite high.

According to the CTU pay and benefits comparison spreadsheet distributed recently, the Stewart compensation average for field representatives was $191,026, but has increased to $199,528 due to the pay raises in their Teamster union contract, which is guaranteed until the end of the 2011 school year.

Likewise, the clerical workers' compensation average bumped up a bit from $102,945 under Stewart to $104,401 today.

The average coordinator salary and benefits fell from $167,202 under Stewart to $122,634, while the officers' compensation decreased from an average of $207,661 under Stewart to $135,867 today.

The decrease has totaled up to considerable savings, according to Michael Baldwin, director of finances for the CTU. Baldwin was hired when the CTU hit a financial crisis under the Stewart administration that went from a budget surplus under the previous Lynch regime to an over million dollar budget deficit.

When Deborah Lynch took over as CTU President in July 2001, she also cut union officials' benefit packages and passed on the savings to the membership who saw their union dues decreased.

Stewart, upon election in 2004, then progressively increased union dues to the current rate of almost $1,000 per year (for teachers) and also increased the pay and perks of the union officers and many staff.

The new CTU leaders have said they are using the savings to increase the organizing strength of the union which is under enormous pressure to make huge concessions in the next teacher contract due for negotiation in 2012.