Illinois Union Leaders to Quit In Wake of Local’s Charges

By Julie Blair — September 12, 2001 2 min read

The president of the 80,000-member Illinois Federation of Teachers and nine other top officials have announced their intention to resign at the end of this month, following allegations that they tried to manipulate a union election in Chicago last spring, among other improprieties.

Thomas H. Reece attempted to persuade the Chicago school board to provide a one- time bonus to teachers before the city teachers’ union election in May in the hope of garnering members’ votes, while secretly pledging to sacrifice educators’ health benefits, charged Deborah Lynch, who defeated Mr. Reece for the Chicago Teachers Union presidency.

Ms. Lynch further alleges that Mr. Reece and other departing officials of the local union took $1.4 million of unauthorized severance pay. She also contends that they and other union officials were paid $600,000 for unused sick days before the new CTU administration took control of the union, and that they spent an exorbitant sum to refurbish staff offices and overhaul computer equipment. She called such practices questionable and possibly illegal.

The allegations were made in a letter dated Aug. 27 and sent to the Chicago local’s 30,000 members soon afterward.

“The letter was sent to inform members about the situation we found when we took office this summer,” Ms. Lynch said in a telephone interview last week. “We wanted to let them know, because one of our campaign promises was to have more open communication. The bottom line is that the rank-and-file members were not aware of these benefits.”

Mr. Reece, who has served as the state federation’s president for seven years and was the CTU president for seven years as well, denied any wrongdoing. “This is all a fabrication,” he said last week. “It is absolutely not true.”

Reece Disputes Claims

Teachers did receive a one-time, 1 percent bonus before the May election, but it was not traded for health-care benefits or done to sway voters, Mr. Reece said.

And while the local’s top brass received severance packages and pay for unused sick days, they were entitled to do so, he said.

He dismissed the other allegations as false and vindictive.

“Tom Reece never, ever made any health-care concessions,” Paul G. Vallas, the chief executive officer of the Chicago schools until this past June, told the Chicago Sun-Times. Mr. Vallas is now a Democratic candidate for governor in Illinois.

Nevertheless, Mr. Reece and the nine vice presidents who sit on the 38-member executive board of the Illinois Federation of Teachers announced they will resign, effective Sept. 30.

“Quite frankly, we’re resigning because of all the political pressure created by the president of the CTU,” Mr. Reece said. “There was no doubt about my legal right to keep this position, but I did not want to stay and cause harm to the state organization.”

The CTU has threatened to withhold its dues to the state organization, Mr. Reece said.

The American Federation of Teachers, the parent of both affiliates, will investigate the charges.