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Building Trades Council rebukes CTU leader in mayoral split

Tuesday, Mar 21, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Organized labor has been divided on Chicago’s mayoral race for months, but the split has been mostly amicable and professional until this week.

During the first round, the unions were scattered around, with progressive labor organizations like the Chicago Teachers Union backing Brandon Johnson, numerous trade unions staying with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Local 150 of the Operating Engineers and various Teamsters locals endorsing Chuy Garcia, and the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police going with their former labor negotiator Paul Vallas.

Since the runoff began, however, the unions quickly polarized, with trade unions lining up behind Vallas (Local 150 quickly switched gears, for instance, and pledged $1 million for Vallas) and more progressive public employee unions uniting with Johnson (including SEIU Local 1 and AFSCME, which sat out the first round).

* Tensions have been building in the runoff, including over race, and they escalated quickly yesterday when CTU President Stacy Davis Gates spoke to a national publication about the contest

Organizers in Johnson’s camp say the CTU is the glue holding together a coalition, not the sole force of his campaign. Davis Gates noted that she and the heads of the local SEIU and SEIU Healthcare, also behind Johnson, are all Black, and her members are mostly women.

That shows union membership isn’t just “white guys in hard hats,” she said.

“The organized labor that’s behind Brandon are unions that have routinely fought for issues that lift up working people,” said Bill Neidhardt, a campaign adviser for Johnson.

“White guys in hard hats.” OK.

…Adding… The CTU membership is not exactly representative of the city nor the public school student population. From the Tribune in 2021

Of the 22,000 CPS teachers, 48.8% are white; 22.3% are Hispanic; 20.7% are Black; and 4.2% are Asian.

About 330,000 students are enrolled in CPS, with 46.6% Hispanic; 36% Black; 10.8% white and 4.4% Asian.

* Trade unions have been criticized for a lack of diversity, mainly by Black and Brown politicians, but rarely has that criticism come from within labor itself. And the CTU president’s comments badly stung some trade union leaders yesterday. From the Building Trades Council…

“There is no room in the labor movement or politics for divisive statements like Stacy’s,” said Mike Macellaio, President of the Chicago and Cook County Building Trades Council, which represents 15 unions and more than 80,000 members. “The building trades are a diverse group of highly skilled men and women of every race, color and creed; and we committed to protecting the rights of every worker and opening doors for the next generation. Building trades unions funded the vast majority of the Workers’ Rights Amendment campaign, which protects every worker in Illinois, and we have invested millions in programs to increase access to apprenticeship programs and provide skill training to a diverse new generation of workers. We call on Brandon Johnson to make clear where he stands on Stacy’s comments as well.”

Tensions between the two union sides have existed for years, even before the issue of pension reform bitterly divided the house of labor in the past decade. Teachers unions and AFSCME refused to contribute to then-House Speaker Michael Madigan’s personal campaign fund after he pushed through a pension reform package. Some of the trades, which backed Madigan, then began publicly calling for pension reform to free up state money for things like infrastructure.

But then Bruce Rauner came along and his strident anti-union rhetoric and his publicly admitted decision to hold the state budget hostage until Democrats went along with his “right to work” agenda fused organized labor together like it had never been before.

The bond has mostly held since then because both sides have done pretty darned well under the current governor and there’s no reason to fight over crumbs, but the split has been particularly obvious in the mayoral runoff as the trades congregate behind the conservative White guy and the public employee unions align with the lefty Black man.

* So where do they go from here? Politico

Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor is also concerned. “The labor movement fights every day to provide pay and opportunity to members. But we have to make sure that we can disagree with each other without getting to a point where it divides us — because the labor movement has to endure.”

Staying neutral: Neither the CFL nor the trades council have endorsed anyone in the mayor’s race.

Gates responds: “I truly don’t understand the response to my comment. And, I think we are saying the same thing: Labor is diverse, and its leadership is diverse, too. It is important especially for women during Women’s History Month to know they are represented at the highest levels of union leadership,” Gates said in a statement.

But it’s obviously more than just her comments about women which have sparked the ire of the trades.

* In response to the Johnson campaign’s statement that “supporters of Brandon tend to be the people who lift workers up,” a high-level member of the building trades pointed out that their unions - the so-called “white guys in hard hats” - put their money where their mouths were last year to back the Workers Rights Amendment…

The official noted that the money spent by teachers’ unions on the amendment ($162K) pales in comparison to the seven-figure sums those unions are now putting behind Johnson. That difference, the official said, “tells the story about lifting up workers vs. getting a contract this summer.”



  1. - Hot Taeks - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 9:29 am:

    Stacy Davis Gates really wants to do a speedrun of working class voters continually leaving the Democratic Party while it picks up white college-educated white collar voters. CTU really needs to look itself in the mirror and ask why the trades unions are more popular than it. Being a more popular union than the FOP according to public opinion really doesn’t mean much.

  2. - NIU Grad - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 9:35 am:

    “White guys in hard hats.”

    Yikes. She just lives in a self-important echo chamber.

    With divided labor, Chicago looks close to electing its first Republican mayor since the early 20th century.

  3. - Bertram Weeks - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 9:41 am:

    Davis-Gates is not wrong but equally not helpful. United we bargain, collectively we beg…

    The trades will always have a race problem because their leadership doesn’t reflect it’s membership. Look at the CFL and BTC leadership. Or IUOE, LIUNIA, IBEW, UA, Carpenters, any of them. They’re all white men.

  4. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 9:41 am:

    Labor is better when it’s united labor.

    The “genius” of Scott Walker was dividing labor in Wisconsin to finally take down labor.

    Rauner had no stomach for taking down an elephant one bite at a time, and it didn’t cost Rauner, it cost ALL of Illinois.

    60/30, Rauner could never point to that, but enjoyed stalling all overrides with Ken Dunkin

    My point?

    As Rich notes, Illinois labor was united, it was even said unlike ever before.

    Instead of going down a racial lane, merely pointing out “Daleyites” and the “going back” mentality would’ve sufficed better while trying to *not* irreparably hurt a united labor.

    Now we’ll see how the fallout may be after the election

  5. - Uncle Merkin - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 9:48 am:

    -”I truly don’t understand the response to my comment.”-

    If you were wondering what it feels like to be gaslit by SDG…

    Takes a cheap shot on racial lines, shrugs it off, and reminds us that it’s Women’s History Month. “Why’s everybody making a big deal out of this?”

    It’ll be everything the labor movement can do just to stay together when there is a leader who proves willing to get that low against her brothers and sisters.

  6. - Torco Sign - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 9:50 am:

    “The trades will always have a race problem because their leadership doesn’t reflect it’s membership…They’re all white men.”

    Illinois has a white governor. OK to have a white man because of the state demographics? Lauren Underwood was elected in a majority-white district. She doesn’t reflect the district if viewed through only a racial prism. I don’t know but it seems like people of various backgrounds can represent people of various backgrounds.

  7. - Google Is Your Friend - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 9:50 am:

    1) Are the trade unions really more popular than CTU? We know from consistent public polling that CTU is far more popular than FOP, but what’s the data on CTU vs building trades?

    2) Let’s not forget that the building trades are AFL, which has been failing for decades. It’s why the Teamsters and SEIU and others first broke out into Change to Win back in the mid-2000s. CTU’s organizing model is a heckuva lot closer to CTW (now Strategic Organizing Center) than AFL.

    3) people of color were responsible for the most recent increase in unionization across the country according to EPI: “The entire increase in unionization in 2022 was among workers of color—workers of color saw an increase of 231,000, while white workers saw a decrease of 31,000.” If you’re not representing and having POC throughout your ranks from workers to organizers to union leaders, what are you really doing?

    4) It’s not like the trades have a history of putting racial justice front and center to build class and worker solidarity. In fact, it’s the opposite, as demonstrated by the AFL’s founding and longtime exclusion of Black workers. The point is, the fissure is not new.

  8. - JB13 - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 9:56 am:

    “White guys in hard hats”

    I’d respond, but my dog just came running, and sat up straight and awaits a treat. Very weird.

  9. - Roman - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 9:57 am:

    The Johnson campaign, of which Davis Gates is the de facto campaign manager, is keen on talking about race. (Vallas and the trades are not.) It’s part philosophical: “centering” race is at the core of the CTU leadership’s belief system. And it’s part tactical: energizing Black voters and getting them to see Johnson as the second coming of Harold Washington is one of the keys to Johnson’s campaign.

    We’ll see how it works out.

  10. - Gravitas - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 9:58 am:

    Stacy Davis Gates is probably too young to remember when the Washburne Academy was based in the CPS to teach students trade apprentice skills.

  11. - Perrid - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 10:20 am:

    If the trades want to support a Republican they can deal with all the connotations that go along with that. It’s hard to pretend that equality or diversity matter to you when your actions prove otherwise. Likewise, I’m sure they would like to do whatever they want and have no one complain about it, but I’m not sure why anyone should humor their childish desires.

    As Rich points out though, CTU should be careful of throwing stones in glasses houses.

  12. - Amalia - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 10:24 am:

    the election endorsements are pretty much unions that are female dominated vs. unions that are male dominated. SDGates talks about that all the time.

  13. - City Zen - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 10:25 am:

    Stacy touched the third rail in organized labor. The trades lack in both female and POC representation at the highest levels. For all the calls for diversity in corporate board rooms and the executive level, no one has asked the same of Local 150.

    The truth is Johnson dug his own defund grave with the trades. They value their safety and personal property. That’s not a platform they’re going to stand on.

  14. - JoeMaddon - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 10:32 am:

    **The official noted that the money spent by teachers’ unions on the amendment ($162K) pales in comparison to the seven-figure sums those unions are now putting behind Johnson.**

    Using the WRA spending to ameka point here is real odd to me. The WRA was alway focused on private-sector labor. Yes, it had a piece that was public sector that was added to try and bring them into the fold. But it was always a predominantly private-sector amendment (that, ironically had to consistently fight against anti-public-sector union messaging). But the public sector had already been forced to go RTW with Harris v Quinn and Janus. And the WRA was never going to change that.

    The WRA was a trades initiative that the public-sector folks supported.

  15. - Lucky Pierre - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 10:36 am:

    That is definitely an unforced error.

    CTU and Brandon still accusing any one who disagrees with their progressive reforms as racist.

    Don’t they know only Republicans can be accused of racism?

  16. - Lucky Pierre - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 10:39 am:

    So not only the trades but the most popular Democrat in the state, who happens to be African American, is endorsing a Republican for Mayor of Chicago?

    Anyone who is not 100% on board with radical progressive policies that have never worked anywhere they have been tried is not a Republican.

  17. - Bertram Weeks - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 10:47 am:

    “I don’t know but it seems like people of various backgrounds can represent people of various backgrounds.”

    Thanks for reiterating my point.

    Unions need people with various backgrounds in their leadership. Not just one race and sex.

  18. - Old IL Dude - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 10:52 am:

    Here’s a good strategy: If Stacy Davis Gates is FOR something, it’s wise to be AGAINST that very same thing.

  19. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 10:54 am:

    === Here’s a good strategy==

    Are you even pro-labor or are you trolling concern?

    If you’re anti-labor and have that strategy, odds are you’d like to see all of labor divided anyway.

  20. - Old IL Dude - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 11:26 am:

    ===Are you even pro-labor or are you trolling concern?===

    I’m pro-labor, but not giving carte blanche to CTU and its very far left leadership. It’s funny how Catholic elementary and high schools in Chicago serving the very same demographic of students as CPS can provide far better results than its CPS counterparts, despite not having the same resources, teacher salaries and facilities. Yet CTU consistently axe for mo’ money despite low educational outputs.

    Meanwhile, CTU fights tooth & nail for COVID restrictions, keeping open schools that are ~10% open, teacher performance reform, supporting the President of Venezuela (?!?) and a LaSalle St Tax.

  21. - Old IL Dude - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 11:30 am:

    @Oswego willy, speaking of trolling concern, do your property tax dollars go to support CPS and CTU? Mine do.

  22. - Lucky Pierre - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 11:33 am:

    As the building trades know you can be pro labor and pro capitalism

    the CTU hasn’t figured that out

    A Brandon Johnson administration would devastate private sector investment

    this a natural fault line

  23. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 11:38 am:

    At least we’re past the days of white workers going on strike when black people are hired or promoted. That’s progress, folks.

    I’d be interested in seeing the demographics of the unions that belong to the Chicago Building Trades. I assume they’re improved over the last 40 years. (It’d be hard not to.)

  24. - TinyDancer(FKASue) - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 11:38 am:

    I miss Karen.

  25. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 11:42 am:

    ===The WRA was alway focused on private-sector labor.===

    According to the Illinois Policy Institute, the WRA was focused on public sector workers.

  26. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 11:47 am:

    === A Brandon Johnson administration would devastate private sector investment

    this a natural fault line===

    While the two polarizing candidates for mayor are strikingly different in so many things, they both will have the same obstacle once elected, the City Council.

    Seeing how alder-types are lining up, that 26 number at times, even for pro-business things, will need to be earned, and “anti-business” policies will face up hill challenges

    These ain’t “Daley-Time” City Councils, with the ageless and priceless powerful finance chairman Ed Byrne running the shop and O’Connor as floor leader.

    This election, even for ALL of labor, is a new type of era coming.

  27. - JS Mill - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 11:49 am:

    I have long been critical of CTU, and this is a prime example of why. The hubris that is required to criticize other labor organizations and then to be shocked when they choose to respond is telling.

    Telling of the arrogance of the CTU organization and their culture.

    I never thought to much about a former union member being elected, never saw that in a negative light. But now? Chicago is in for it either way.

  28. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 11:51 am:

    === It’s funny how Catholic elementary and high schools in Chicago serving the very same demographic of students as CPS can provide far better results than its CPS counterparts, despite not having the same resources, teacher salaries and facilities. Yet CTU consistently axe for mo’ money despite low educational outputs.===

    Are you anti-vaxx too? Sounds like it. How did health safety factor in? One person’s freedom is and was a unions worry and concern.

    ===tax dollars===

    Does Springfield send CPS schools money?

    ===supporting the President of Venezuela ===

    Where’s the favorite aunt when we need her?

    Be well.

  29. - Jerry - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 12:18 pm:

    @OW: - with respect -

    I thought Scott Walker took down the teachers but was too chicken to take on the cops. But my memory could be wrong about that.

  30. - supplied_demand - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 12:23 pm:

    ==It’s funny how Catholic elementary and high schools in Chicago serving the very same demographic of students as CPS==

    As someone who sends a kid to a Catholic elementary school in Chicago, this isn’t remotely true. Tuition alone is over $7k, and they turn away special needs kids for lack of resources. No way that pulls the exact same demographic as schools required to accept any and all students.

  31. - Roman - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 12:30 pm:

    “It’s funny how Catholic elementary and high schools in Chicago serving the very same demographic of students…”

    That is not true. The portion of Latino and white enrollment at Chicago Archdiocesan schools is similar in size, roughly 45 percent each. Black enrollment is less than 10 percent. The percentage of CPS students living below the poverty line is much higher than Catholic schools

  32. - GinaTeach - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 1:07 pm:

    I’m a CTU member. We’re used to Davis-Gates slamming people who don’t agree with her and using the race card to bully folks. If Johnson wins, she will think she’s in charge. Be afraid, be very afraid.

  33. - R.J. - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 1:21 pm:

    === The Johnson campaign, of which Davis Gates is the de facto campaign manager, is keen on talking about race. (Vallas and the trades are not.) ===

    Agreed. When the Vallas campaign does talk about race, it’s via the many prominent Black officials endorsing him who rightly chide the Johnson campaign for what seems to be an obsession with race over every other issue. Here’s Bobby Rush today: “There are some who seem to polarize and divide us with rhetoric that is intended to pit the North Side against the South Side or the West Side or the East Side. Or attempt to pit Black vs white.”

  34. - Numbers - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 1:21 pm:


    Perhaps Stacy Davis Gates should look at her own union before criticizing others

    Of the 22,000 CPS teachers, 48.8% are white; 22.3% are Hispanic; 20.7% are Black; and 4.2% are Asian.

    About 330,000 students are enrolled in CPS, with 46.6% Hispanic; 36% Black; 10.8% white and 4.4% Asian.

    CTU Officers and Board - source CTU website

    CTU Officers consists of 4 people
    2 - Black 50%, 1- Hispanic, 1- White

    CTU Board - 41 people

    19 - Black 46.3%
    13 - White 31.7 %
    8 - Hispanic 19.5 %
    1- Asian 2.4%

  35. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 1:35 pm:

    === When the Vallas campaign does talk about race===

    … but ignore the connections to Awake Illinois, the racist tweets and discussions, or embracing the FOP Prez who won’t condemn Proud Boys in CPD…

    The Vallas Campaign Coalition is three fold;

    * There’s the “Daley” folks harkening to the 1990s

    * The “LaSalle Street” folks, banking on 1990’s pinstripe patronage (jobs & contracts)

    * AND… the racist thinkers, conspiracy theorists & insurrection apologists

    The thing about coalitions is they only need to be united in one thing, even if any or all together in any other sense… makes no sense.

    Inoculating Vallas versus who is supporting Vallas is the problem Johnson has, and why Jesse White was a huge get… while the racist thinkers quietly still wait.

  36. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 2:32 pm:

    - Jerry -

    Walker, prevailing wage, collective bargaining… the Walker wins… Rauner would not have felt satisfied with any, unless he had em all.

    How do I know?

    An entire GA was sat and went Sine Die… no budget.

    Rauner wouldn’t let a budget exist without complete surrender.

  37. - ChicagoBars - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 2:39 pm:

    This is the most bitter municipal election I can remember in the 5 I’ve worked around/paid close attention to. The next City Council was already going to be tough to partner with/manage (pick whatever you prefer). Two more weeks of this campaigning and next Mayor might be dealing on Day 1 with the same acrimonious mess that Lightfoot took 2-3 years to achieve.

    And then the Federal Covid money in the City budget runs out. Oy.

  38. - W. Goose Willy - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 2:46 pm:

    –the racist thinkers, conspiracy theorists & insurrection apologists–

    What is that? They cannot be more numerous than Brandon’s supporters who still believe Jussie Smollett, think that Foxx is a swell prosecutor, or that AIDS was an antiblack conspiracy.

    As a lifelong Democrat, I shocked! at how woke an erstwhile Republican like you can be.

  39. - Zaynab - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 2:51 pm:

    Bertram tell us:

    ==The trades will always have a race problem because their leadership doesn’t reflect it’s [sic] membership. Look at the…leadership….They’re all white men.==

    Their leadership reflects the composition of their ranks.

    Personally, I wish more ladies of color would take the dangerous jobs white men oft do, but apparently they require a much higher risk premium.

  40. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 2:59 pm:

    ===They cannot be more numerous===

    Yeah, I’m gonna stop here, and your utterly ridiculous nonsense… because you already embraced… the racist thinkers, the conspiracy theorists, and the insurrection apologists.

    So by embracing these folks, that’s who you are, and who you embrace… by whatabouting it as justification.


    === As a lifelong Democrat, I shocked at how woke===

    Friend, by using woke as you are, you’re only fooling yourself that you aren’t yourself among the racist thinkers…

    Here’s the sitch, lean in, I’ll help you, between us…


    Siding with the worst elements of society that made a political party a cult was never who I was or could ever be.

    - - - - - -

    - ChicagoBars -, you’re on it. That City Council won’t be any ally to either. I had another comment that mirrors your thought, you made it better.

    (Tips cap to - JS Mill - and - Norseman -)

  41. - Do better Stacey. - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 3:49 pm:

    ’nuff said

  42. - Truthteller1 - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 8:56 pm:

    In round 1, the biggest trades locals were for García, not Vallas, and would in all likelihood have stuck with García if he’d made it to round 2 against Vallas.
    If it were simply about race, they would have been for Vallas in round 1.
    Perhaps they are now for Vallas for some other reason than their skin color.

  43. - OverByDere - Tuesday, Mar 21, 23 @ 10:13 pm:

    The irony of the endorsement of building trades unions is that the vast majority of their members don’t live in Chicago. Infact most don’t seem to live in Cook county.

  44. - need - Wednesday, Mar 22, 23 @ 6:21 am:

    Exactly, Overybydere. Integrating the labor unions would help a lot of people. Lots of people want a “head of household” job

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