CTU sues Lightfoot ally, accuses her of interfering in union’s elections

Lisa Schneider Fabes said she has not had an opportunity to review the lawsuit from CTU but believes she “acted at all times consistent with applicable law.”

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CTU President Jesse Sharkey speaks at a press conference asking courts to bar union election interference. Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union has filed a lawsuit against a former top advisor to Mayor Lori Lightfoot over her role in a social media campaign supporting challengers to the current union’s leadership team.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, seeks to “end mischievous, unlawful and deceptive interference” from staunch mayoral ally Lisa Schneider Fabes and a group she formed, Chicago Teachers United, claiming she is undermining the union’s elections taking place on May 20.

Last month, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Schneider Fabes was behind a paid social media campaign promoting a caucus inside the union, Members First, in its bid to unseat the current leadership of the union, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, in an upcoming election.

“There were very serious threats to the legitimacy in the internal democratic processes of the Chicago Teachers Union and we can’t stand for that,” Michael Persoon, an attorney for CTU, said at a press conference Thursday. “These are the sorts of things that are illegal, unlawful — you can’t have outsiders coming in and trying to manipulate your internal union processes.”

Schneider Fabes oversaw the Lightfoot administration’s transition into office in 2019 and was chief operating officer of the mayor’s election campaign. She later was forced to resign from the administration as the city’s inspector general investigated her for living in Wilmette while collecting a city paycheck.

She’s also a member of the District 39 school board in the northern suburbs.

“The Chicago Teachers Union has, I think, one of the healthiest and sometimes most raucous internal democratic structures of any union in the city,” said outgoing CTU President Jesse Sharkey. “It is an incredibly dangerous threat to that culture if people who are not members of the union use big money, political operative tactics” become involved in “sophisticated” campaigns impacting the union.

Sharkey said outside influence over their election process is not only a violation of federal law but also the union’s election rules, which prohibits outside contributions from non-union members that would benefit candidates seeking a position as an officer, delegate or alternate delegate.

Schneider Fabes said she has not had an opportunity to review the lawsuit from CTU but believes she “acted at all times consistent with applicable law.”

“Prior to CTU’s announcement, Chicago Teachers United already permanently ceased all operations to avoid any further distractions from the important issues facing CPS and its staff, students and parents,” Schneider Fabes said.

The Chicago Teachers United website was down on Thursday. Schneider Fabes said she previously discontinued the campaign, which records show cost $472 and including three ads on Facebook and Instagram that reached about 23,000 users earlier this year.

Persoon said he hasn’t heard directly from Schneider Fabes that Chicago Teachers United has stopped its operation, but he welcomed her to send him any information she has that promises she won’t interfere again.

“But for the time being, I just seen a job posting that they are hiring for a new executive director for March of 2022,” Persoon said. “It seems that they still have ongoing operations and from my investigation, the only thing that Chicago Teachers United existed to do was to interfere with Chicago Teachers Union elections.”

That job posting was included as an exhibit in the lawsuit.

No union member is suspected of helping Schneider Fabes, Sharkey said; however, the lawsuit does include an unnamed “Jane Doe.” The union isn’t sure who else is involved, he said, and he wouldn’t directly tie Lightfoot to the campaign.

But, Sharkey added, he finds it hard to believe a Wilmette resident decided to launch this campaign by herself.

City Hall issued a statement Thursday again denying any involvement, saying Mayor Lightfoot has had no involvement in any internal union election.”

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