Labor unions are important players in this election as Vallas and Johnson are headed to runoffs.
With four days until the runoff election, mayoral candidates Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson will be counting on endorsements and contributions to get them to the finish line.
Both candidates have garnered a distinct base of supporters. Johnson, who received SEIU’s endorsement, continues to be endorsed and financed by education and public service unions. Vallas, who received Willie Willson’s endorsement after the municipal election, has been largely financed by executives and CEOs of finance, insurance and other similar entities.
NBC 5 News political reporter Mary Ann Ahern says, “It’s shaping up to be sort of this business community versus the workers kind of thing.”
According to the data provided by Follow the Money, the finance, insurance and real estate sector was the second-largest contributor to all state elections in Illinois for the 2019 and 2020 elections. Labor organizations were the third-largest contributors.
Vallas has collected over $18.2 million in total campaign contributions for the 2023 mayoral race as of Thursday, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. His top contributor is Michael Keiser, executive of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, who contributed a total of $700,000 to his campaign.
Vallas is headed to the run-off elections, after winning nearly 33% of the vote in the general election, which took place on February 28.
Political Science Professor Emeritus Kent Redfield at the University of Illinois at Springfield says, “Even though you got the business community engaged in Vallas’ campaign, in terms of the financial people that work for large investment entities, finance entities — overall union money dominates in Illinois politics.”
Redfield draws a distinction between unions and their endorsement patterns. He explains, “Union money tends to be Democratic, but it’s more in terms of more progressive candidates and progressive issues. The service employee unions and the teacher’s unions tend to be more active in those particular issues.”
On the other hand, trade unions pay less attention to social issues, he added.
Johnson, who made it to runoffs with nearly 22% of the vote, has raised over $10.96 million in campaign contributions from October 2022 to March 30, according to the ISBE. Seventy-two percent of those contributions come from labor unions. The major backers for him are the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU.
The American Federation of Teachers donated a total of over $1 million to Johnson’s campaign since the general elections.
Lori Lightfoot, the first mayor in 40 years to not be re-elected for a second term, came in third place with 17% of the votes.
Lightfoot collected over $6.7 million in total campaign contributions since she announced she would run for reelection in January 2022, according to the ISBE. That’s 19% less from what she raised during her 2019 campaign. Of the 2023 election contributions, 17% came from trade unions such as the Chicago Journeyman Plumbers’ L.U. 130 and I.O.U.E. Local 399 who are now backing Vallas.
Vallas has collected $632,5000 from labor unions, that is 3% of the total contributions made to his campaign.
Chuy Garcia was the second runner-up in the 2023 mayoral election with 13% of the vote. Garcia’s campaign got 20% of its contributions from trade unions as well.
“Does money drive this race? Absolutely,” says Ahern. She points out that Vallas came in ninth place out of 14 candidates in the 2019 mayoral race, which she says Vallas would attribute to his poorly funded campaign.
“This time he has money, so therefore his message has been able to get out. People know who he is, they know where he stands. He has even been able to sell his message. And Johnson has had the union,” she says.
Vallas loaned $100,100 to his campaign two days after advancing to the run-off, effectively removing contribution limits for all candidates per Illinois campaign guidelines.
Redfield explains that, besides financing, a union’s endorsement can also provide a candidate with added credibility.
Vallas received an endorsement from Chicago’s largest police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge #7, but it didn’t come with campaign contributions for him. However, this endorsement has enforced his tough-on-crime platform.
Another matter when it comes to union support is whether candidates will stay loyal to those unions if elected. Johnson has been largely questioned as to whether he’d be beholden to the CTU if he were elected as mayor.
Marcos Ceniceros, executive director of Warehouse Workers Action (WWA) says, “There’s a lot already of built-in support across the city for the teachers, so they were able to sort of galvanize some of that and put it behind Brandon.”
Organizations such as Ceniceros’, with less political and financial muscle than the FOP or CTU, can rely on a community base built over time.
WWA is an organization based in Chicago and Joliet that serves warehouse workers who are not often unionized and largely composed of temp workers. They also provide legal services to workers and address environmental issues in the communities they live in.
WWA has not yet made an endorsement but they are in the process of evaluating the candidates. “We want to make sure that we support candidates that are going to move on those policies, make sure that they are prioritizing workers, working people,” said Ceniceros. He adds that although his organization would not be able to make large financial contributions, they could provide time and energy through canvassing and other forms of outreach.
Ceniceros says, “Unions, and even worker centers, are a place where people go to work and people find their collective voice. They have a collective voice to be able to demand something. They’re used to doing that at their jobs.”
Header illustration by Annie Gidionsen