IPI working to bust teacher unions

The conservative Illinois Policy Institute, affiliated with Gov. Rauner, is urging teachers to abandon their unions

 The Chicago Teachers Union posted this image on its Twitter feed. (Twitter)

The Chicago Teachers Union posted this image on its Twitter feed. (Twitter)

By Ted Cox

A conservative group affiliated with Gov. Bruce Rauner is engaging in union-busting against teachers — online and in the mail.

The Illinois Policy Institute is sending postcards to members of the Chicago Teachers Union urging them to take advantage of the U.S. Supreme Court's Janus decision handed down earlier this summer to opt out of the union.

As One Illinois originally wrote in the wake of that decision, Rauner and the IPI had a political falling out a year ago over Rauner's firing of staffers he'd brought on board from the conservative group, but they continue to work in unison if not actually in tandem against unions.

Under Rauner, the state created a webpage immediately after the Janus decision on how state workers could opt out of their union membership — even though the ruling actually only addressed so-called fair-share fees, not membership.

Now the IPI has created a website called leavectu.com that is advertised on postcards being sent to CTU members. The IPI lays claim to it at the bottom of the webpage as part of its more widespread leavemyunion.com online campaign.

CTU has responded by urging its teachers to Tweet pictures of their IPI mailers in defiance with the hashtag #solidarity. Erika Wozniak, a CTU member and a candidate for 46th Ward alderman in Chicago, tweeted that the IPI flier had actually prompted her and her husband to increase their their contribution to the union's Political Action Committee.

The union's Acting President Jesse Sharkey added a statement Thursday, saying, "Bruce Rauner's front group is asking CTU members to walk away from our power, and our members have an answer: no way, not now, not ever."

Charging that the IPI "serves the union-busting agenda of this failed governor," Sharkey said, "It won't work. Our members are too smart, organized, and committed to fall for this toxic ploy to undermine our rights and our dignity."

The Illinois Education Association confirmed Thursday that its members have also been receiving the IPI mailers.

"Our members are angry about the anti-union attacks from the Illinois Policy Institute," said IEA spokeswoman Bridget Shanahan. "The mailers IPI is sending to our members contain misinformation about what our members’ dues are used for. IPI claims they’re just trying to help our members, but we know this is all political."

The IEA has responded in part by posting a video on Facebook laying bare the ties between Rauner and the IPI, as well as to slanted, right-wing media outlets run by Dan Proft and his Liberty Principles Political Action Committee, a symbiotic relationship One Illinois has also written about.

"Look at who funds IPI," Shanahan added. "Gov. Bruce Rauner gave them more than half a million dollars. Billionaire, conservative businessman Dick Uihlein gives them money. This is about privatizing public education and our members know that. IPI believes, if they can take away our members voices, our teachers, our education support staff — if they can silence us and the voice we use to advocate for our students, then they are one step closer to privatizing education."

After the IPI announced on Twitter that it was also trolling members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union's state local confirmed it. AFSCME Council 31 put out a statement saying: "The Illinois Policy Institute has spent years attacking public employees, pressing to drive down their wages and benefits and undermine their rights on the job. The IPI’s claim that they now want to help these employees is absurd in the extreme. In fact, the IPI goal remains the same as it has always been — to weaken unions, making it more difficult for employees to come together to improve their working lives."