Teachers' Pension Fund drops detention firms

The Chicago teachers' fund pulls $548,000 from two prison companies taking part in President Trump's immigrant detention

 Chicago teachers stage a protest. (Shutterstock)

Chicago teachers stage a protest. (Shutterstock)

By Ted Cox

Chicago teachers are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to prisons and detention centers holding immigrants.

The Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund should be fully divested from holding stock in prison companies on Tuesday after its Board of Trustees voted unanimously last week to pull funds from the firms.

"One-hundred percent," said Jay Rehak, president of the board, on Tuesday. "Today, we should be out of it.

"It never made any sense to be in this stuff," he added, "but sometimes you don't even know what you're in, to be honest."

The national American Federation of Teachers issued a report earlier this month on pension funds that potentially held stock in prison companies and those taking part in the controversial detention and separation of immigrant families. According to Rehak, the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund identified $548,000 held in stock in two top private prison companies through its Northern Trust Small Cap Fund.

"It's stocks, so you can divest pretty fast," he said.

President Trump's administration caught flak for detaining immigrants and separating them from their children earlier this year. Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and the American Civili Liberties Union have led calls for the separation process to end, and they insist hundreds of families remain apart, in defiance of a court-imposed deadline.

The Chicago Teachers Union, whose members belong to the pension fund, supported the divestment.

"Our union members serve tens of thousands of immigrant students in our schools, and we’re committed to taking any and all steps to protect their families from disruption or repression,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “That includes our refusal to support corporations that seek to profit from the national attack on immigrants — the same corporations that continue to profit from the mass incarceration of black people and the harm that continues to visit on the families of our black students.

"We’re delighted that our pension fund has taken steps to ensure that we do not commit a single penny to the profits of these companies," he added. "We also encourage CTPF to create safeguards to prevent our fund from investing in harmful investments schemes in the future."

In a formal news release issued last week, Rehak said, "We know these institutions disproportionately incarcerate people of color and those who live below the poverty line, house immigrant children and perpetuate the separation of immigrant families, and take advantage of and put at risk unprotected, low-wage employees, while lacking fiscal and operational transparency. CTPF continues to be a leader in scrutinizing our investments worldwide. I’m proud of our action, and members should be too."

Rehak said the $548,000 will be immediately invested elsewhere. "We'll invest in something valuable, hopefully, like bridges or in infrastructure." he said. "There's enough to be done. There's enough investments out there."

Rehak said the CTPF is relatively well-funded, with $10.8 billion. "If we were fully funded, we'd have about $20 billion," he said. "Relative to the rest of the state we're doing a lot better. In the big picture, you want to really be 80 to 90 percent."

According to Rehak, the fund was fully funded until Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley gained control of Chicago Public Schools in the mid-'90s. Under his administration, and with the permission of the General Assembly, the city took a 10-year "holiday" in making required pension payments, resulting in the shortfall the fund is still trying to make up.

Rehak teaches English at Whitney Young High School, one of the top schools in the state.