Illinois Policy Institute’s Director Mailee Smith Explains Chicago Teachers Unions Power Over City Hall

Apr 17, 2023

Live from Music Row, Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Director Mailee Smith of the Illinois Policy Institute to the newsmaker line to discuss the unchecked wielding power of Chicago’s teachers’ unions.

Leahy: We welcome to our microphones, Mailee Smith, who’s an attorney and director of the Illinois Policy Institute, the president of that group put a piece out at real clear Politics: Teachers Unions now run the Mayor’s office. Welcome, Mailee. Thanks for joining us.

Smith: Thank you for having me this morning.

Leahy: What is going on in Chicago?

Smith: We just had a mayoral election and there were two candidates, both Democrats. One was a more moderate Democrat and the other was a very progressive Democrat and the chosen candidate of the Chicago Teachers Union. His name is Brandon Johnson and he is really a proxy for the Chicago Teachers Union. He only taught for four years.

Then he was a paid union organizer for over a decade. And more than 90 percent of his funding for this campaign came from unions. 50 percent from teachers’ unions. And I go back to 2021, Lori Lightfoot, our outgoing mayor, predicted that Chicago Teachers Union didn’t want to just control CPS, but also City Hall. And that’s what we have here.

And I think Chicago becomes a blueprint for any special interest that is looking for the path to seize power over city hall or other offices. The lesson is if you pour enough union dues and put soldiers into an election, to the detriment of kids and teachers, then you too can take over city hall.

Leahy: It’s happened in Chicago. Crom Carmichael, our all-star panelist is in studio and has for a long time talked about the need to get rid of public employee unions.

Carmichael: I’m curious, how do you think Illinois would be doing today in Chicago in particular if some way or another public employee unions were either eliminated or their finances eviscerated?

Smith: That’s a really interesting question. We are seeing teachers that are upset with the union, leaving the union. Illinois Federation of Teachers is the parent organization of the Chicago Teachers Union and since 2017, they’ve actually lost over 16 percent of their membership.

We know that not only are residents unhappy, we know that more than half of parents within Chicago think that the CTU has too much power. But the teachers are also upset with the way the Chicago teachers union acts and wields its powers.

And there are members who have filed an unfair labor practice against the union in the last month for the way the union has used their dues for political purposes when they’re not supposed to. It’s a rhetorical question, I realize, but what would Illinois look like?

But it’s very possible with all of these people fleeing their unions, that the unions are becoming less powerful. One way we see them recouping that is by raising dues. (Chuckles) They do have a plan to still bring that money in.

And in terms of getting rid of them altogether, we stand behind the Constitution, they do have a right to join a union. But we always want to support those workers who don’t want to be in the union. And we do help teachers get out of their unions, hundreds of them a year.

Carmichael: Now are you talking about the Illinois Constitution because there’s nothing in the US Constitution that says a government employee has the right to join a union? In fact, it wasn’t until Jack Kennedy signed an executive order, and then it became legislation. Here’s my question for you. Are the pensions for public employees in Illinois, are they fully funded?

Smith: They are not fully funded. And in fact, Chicago owes $33.7 billion in unfunded pension liabilities across the cities for employee pension funds. And that’s something that Brandon Johnson is going to have to face as well.

In terms of the constitution, I’m not saying that there is a right to join a union, but there is just generally freedom of association. You have a right as an American citizen to belong to a group that you want. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have a right to dictate and it doesn’t mean you have a right to dictate to the government how they spend their money.

Carmichael: Here’s the question for you. Is Illinois a right-to-work state?

Smith: Illinois is not a right-to-work state. And in fact, we have the broadest union protections in the nation. We have an amendment in our state constitution that guarantees the right to join a union and it prohibits the right to work in our state.

Carmichael: So a person who wants to drop out of a union in Illinois, do they get to keep 100 percent of their dues money?

Smith: The public sector workers do, yes, because there is a Supreme Court decision, Janus v. AFSCME that freed government workers from forced unionization. If you are a teacher, a police officer, or any other state or local government worker, you have a right to leave your union and keep all of your money and not lose your job.

Now, that’s not the same for the private sector. In the private sector, if you’re in a unionized workplace, you don’t have to be a member, but you still have to pay union fees. You’re like an agency fee payer is what they call it.

Carmichael: So you do have to pay union dues.

Smith: In the private sector.

Leahy: Let me ask you this question: How are you gonna turn this around? It looks to me like Chicago is going down the tubes.

Smith: I think one of the main things that we have been doing is educating people on what the teacher’s union is about. We saw over the course of the election, Chicago teachers’ unions favorably went down 15 points. They dropped from plus 17 to plus two just over the course of the election season. And that’s huge in a city that has always been very much in favor of the union.

We have a documentary out called Local 1 and it documents what has happened over the decades to make CTU so powerful. That is something that we’re using as a tool to educate people and anyone can watch that at

And the Illinois Policy Institute is always here to support the people of Illinois. We are a nonpartisan organization and we are here to educate people and let them know what’s going on, not just in the city of Chicago, but around the state.

Carmichael: The areas of Chicago that suffer the most from crime and terrible education are the very areas of Chicago that voted in their largest percentages for the new mayor. How do you fix what appears to be just this incredibly high level of ignorance in the sense that people are being terribly affected by these terrible progressive policies, yet they vote for the very people who impose them?

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Chicago City Hall from Daily Plaza” by Jeremy Atherton CC2.5.