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August 18 2014

Will Chicago Teachers Union President Be the Next 1% Mayor?

Vicki E. Alger

It’s a busy time of year for Chicago Teachers Union President, Karen Lewis. Two years ago just in time for Labor Day, she was helping organize the city’s first teachers’ strike in more than 25 years. Last year she was busy blaming the Chicago Public Schools district’s $665 million budget hole on rich people, and blasting Rahm Emmanuel for being, as she put it, “Mayor 1%.”

This year Lewis is considering a mayoral run, and it turns out she too is near the dastardly top percent. The Chicago Sun Times reports:

Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union president now considering whether to run for mayor, has frequently railed against the influence of the wealthy. …

Lewis isn’t as wealthy as Emanuel, a multimillionaire who made his fortune during a short stint as an investment banker. But she makes more than $200,000 a year and has an ownership interest in three homes, records show.

That includes vacation homes in Hawaii and in the upscale “Harbor Country” area of southwestern Michigan, where Emanuel has a second home, property records show.

In all, Lewis earns just $15,000 less than Emanuel. About $156,000 of Lewis’ compensation and “non-taxable benefits” comes from the CTU, plus tens of thousands more from the Illinois Federation of Teachers, where she serves as executive vice president.

Lewis’ earning practice is a far cry from what she was preaching a few years ago, as Chicago Sun Times continues:

When she first ran for CTU president four years ago, Lewis promised not to make more than the highest-paid teacher….Chicago Public Schools’ payroll records show no teacher makes as much as Lewis’ $136,890 CTU base salary.

In an interview Tuesday, Lewis said she didn’t break her promise not to make more as union president than Chicago’s highest-paid teacher makes, saying her CTU salary is for working the full year, rather than a 39-week school year.

Lewis admits she is indeed among the top 5 percent of Americans in terms of income, but she makes no apologies for it:

I don’t live extravagantly. …We [Lewis and her husband] are comfortable…We are not poor. We have never been poor. Does that mean I don’t have the pulse of [the poor]? I don’t live in luxury. I don’t hang out with wealthy people. I have always been solidly middle class. … I’m not going to apologize for [my salary]. I don’t think that’s wrong. I did what we are told to do. You are supposed to go to school, become educated. I have an Ivy League diploma. I have two master’s degrees.

Three homes, two advanced degrees, and an Ivy League education. Yes, that's just like "the poor."

Under current law, the Chicago Public Schools system acts as a government collection agency for the CTU by withholding  “agency fees” from classroom teachers whether they’re CTU members or not.

Based on the latest available information from the CTU website, during the 2013-14 school year annual dues paid by members and “agency fees” withheld from non-members both amounted to $1,052.49 per year.

No one should begrudge Lewis or anyone else the opportunity to earn a living or spend one’s hard-earned income as he or she pleases. The reason Lewis’ hypocrisy is making national news is that she could never hope to earn the kind of income she does now, nor enjoy the fruits of her labor as she does, if she had to play by the same monopoly money rules Chicago classroom teachers do.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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