Photo: Fred Klonsky
Judge Belz ruled for us.
It is a huge win.
Not only did the judge rule that our pensions are protected by the pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution, but he ruled against Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s claim of police powers.
“The court finds that there is no police power or reserved sovereign power to diminish pension benefits,” said the judge.
The significance of this ruling cannot be overestimated.
Judge Belz was not interested in creating new law. His ruling was based on existing case-law. He was following what he believed to be the direction given by the Supreme Court in Kanerva and the other cases that he cited in his decision.
Certainly, he believed that if a pension benefit like health insurance was a constitutionally protected benefit as far as the Supreme Court was concerned, then our actual pensions are also a protected pension benefit!
Judges don’t like to be overruled. He knows what the Illinois Supreme Court will do.
I don’t for a minute believe that the system isn’t capable of stealing our pensions. And I certainly don’t for a minute believe that the political leadership of this state won’t come back for another try.
But they lost at this attempt.
And we should celebrate.
Thanks to the lawyers who represented all the unions and annuitant groups. You did a great job.
Frankly I was sickened by Democrats who voted for Senate Bill 1 knowing that it was unconstitutional and said as much.
I notice that some who voted for pension theft are claiming this as a victory for themselves.
Democratic Party Senate President John Cullerton, who allowed his Senate Democratic Caucus to support Senate Bill 1, said today, “I have long believed there is a constitutional way to confront Illinois’ pension challenges. Today’s ruling confirms that, while the need for reform is urgent, the rule of law is absolute. I remain committed to working with all parties to address our budget pressures and pension problems in a manner consistent with the Illinois Constitution.”
What a snake.
That is because they have a hope that once the Supreme Court decides to review the decision and upholds Judge Belz they will get our union leaders to come back and agree to another bargain like SB2404 that cut current retiree COLAs among other things.
And the union leadership has given them some reason for that hope.
“Going forward, our union coalition repeats our longstanding commitment to work with anyone of good faith to develop a fair and constitutional solution to fund the state’s retirement systems,” read the statement of the We Are One Illinois coalition of state labor unions.
That could be read many ways.
I would have wished they had said, “We hope the political leaders of this state now realize that the law does not support benefit cuts as a solution to the budget problems. We urge the political leaders to address the revenue problem instead. The court says the law is on our side and we will make no concessions on the promises made to our members.”
But I have no confidence that they won’t try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Make every candidate who wants union money recite the words to Solidarity Forever.
Greg Hinz who writes a blog for the business publication Crain’s has his shorts in a ball over what he claims is the new Chicago Teachers Union candidate evaluation form.
Cheeky, boldly assertive and even arrogant, the form, will substitute for the usual candidate questionnaire asking for positions on issues. It demands that wannabe public officials recite the CTU’s policies and goals—supposedly to insure that contenders know what the union wants.
For example, in a section asking about legislation and issues, the union suggests as a sample answer that a candidate write in part: “The CTU mission is to ensure that educators and students in the Chicago Public Schools have fully resourced school communities. The CTU has demonstrated their commitment to the entire community by supporting issues like a living wage…I have a firm commitment to working people. In my practice, I have represented union members in arbitration proceedings. I have upheld the rights of workers because it is essential for our society to succeed. Labor has played a very important function of advancing the rights and earning power of women and people of color.”
Yes, the union really suggests—in writing—that a candidate thus reply.
Union officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Overall, CTU asks that those seeking its endorsement answer three general questions, with as many as five sub-questions each, about them and their campaign. On each—much like a a standardized test—the candidates will be ranked: unsatisfactory, basic, proficient or distinguished.
For example, in question 2e, dealing with cuts to public services, an “unsatisfactory” candidate would be one who has supported cuts in services such as health clinics, Medicaid, police protection and schools. A “proficient” candidate would have “consistently opposed cuts” via “pubic pronouncements and legislative initiatives.” To be rated “distinguished,” that contender would have to have “proposed reinstatement of prior cuts.”
Another example: campaign communications. The “unsatisfactory” candidate has “no strategy for communications,” but does have an “uncomfortable” public speaking style. But a “distinguished” one would speak “in multiple formats” in ways that are “easy to comprehend.” And the candidate should be such a good speaker that his or her future constituents will be “excited about the candidate.”
In other words, no dees, dose and dems, alder-people.
To those who think this all sounds a bit bureaucratic and onerous, the union pretty much says: tough.
In the form, it notes that, over its opposition, the state in 2010 adopted new teachers evaluation standards that have “four domains with 19 separate components,” with teachers being rated unsatisfactory to distinguished.
“We believe those who develop, pass and enforce laws should be held to the same standards as our members,” the evaluation form says. “To that end, the Chicago Teachers Union will assess candidates for elective office using this rubric based on the one used to evaluate teachers.”
This almost caused me to do a spit-take with my coffee this morning.
Whoever came up with this at the CTU: God bless ‘em.
If you missed it, this completely mirrors what politicians in this and other states have foisted upon teachers.
Apparently Hinz misses this point. It’s arrogant for the union to demand of legislative leaders what they demand of teachers.
It’s not “bureaucratic and onerous,” Greg. It is pointedly sharp and necessary.
Hinz sarcastically suggests that the union make the candidates recite the words to Solidarity Forever.
Hell. My main criticism is that the CTU didn’t think of that first.
Learning from Massachusetts. Madeloni made it clear that the union was not going to compromise on this issue.
Last summer in Denver at the annual meeting of the NEA I had the good fortune of having dinner with Barbara Madeloni who had just recently been elected president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
Barbara is the kind of union leader we need right now.
This morning I had barely finished my coffee and wrote my blog post when the phone rang and it was my pal Glen Brown.
“You read my post yet, Klonsky?”
“Uh. No Glen. Still writing mine,” I laughed.
“Well, read it. This is what we need in the IEA,” said Glen.
Glen has it reposted on his blog.
Or you can go to In These Times.
In 2012, when the Massachusetts Teachers Association was under different leadership, the education reform group Stand for Children threatened a ballot referendum to take away teachers’ seniority rights. The union did not inform the membership, much less mobilize it. It never tried attempted to build the rank-and-file’s collective capacity to resist.
Instead the president and vice-president engaged in secret backroom negotiations with Stand for Children. When the board of directors first learned about this — thanks to persistent questioning by a handful of board members — the president insisted that the entire discussion take place in executive session; board members were forbidden to tell the rank-and-file what was going on.
Eventually a deal was negotiated, removing some of the worst features of the ballot measure, but with the union agreeing to dramatically weaken the impact of seniority in layoffs and transfers, which were now to be governed by “the best interests of the child” – a phrase that could mean practically anything. The union’s mantra, heard often under the old leadership, was “it could have been worse.”
The custom in the Massachusetts Teachers Association is for the sitting vice-president to ascend to the presidency. But something strange happened in May: Madeloni, a rank-and-file progressive activist, was elected president in the most stunning election upset in the union’s history.
When the teacher re-licensure proposal was unveiled last month, Madeloni did not initiate backroom negotiations and seek an orderly retreat; she immediately and decisively opposed the new licensure proposal, and gave an eager membership ways to act.
More than five thousand members sent emails, and two rallies were scheduled, with buses rented and members signed up to attend the last two of DESE’s “Town Hall” meetings for their proposal. Instead of choosing which bad option to support, the campaign was titled “None of the Above.”
Three weeks after the MTA campaign began, the DESE completely caved. A letter from Chester announced, “In short, we are rescinding the draft options that link licensure to educator evaluation.”An impressive victory for teachers and the union, although we worry that, vampire-like, some form of this will be brought forward again as soon as DESE and corporate reformers think we are napping.
And while the proposal has been defeated in Massachusetts, similar proposals may be coming to other states. In 2012, the Council of Chief State School Officers released a report on teacher licensure that implicitly promised another focused on re-licensure.
The report stated it was being issued “to all chief state school officers to sound a clarion that current policies and practices for entry into the education profession are not sufficient,”adding that “While the focus of this report is on new teachers and principals, future reports will address the need for additional preparation of veteran teachers and principals.” Clearly the states coordinate, and announced their intention to address teacher re-licensure; the Massachusetts’ proposal appears to be an opening shot in this effort.
So what can others learn from the victory in Massachusetts? Why was the union’s victory so complete and so swift?
First and most importantly, the union leadership made it clear that it was prepared to fight, and that it was not looking for a minor backroom concession. Second, the union jumped on the issue immediately. The proposal was released on a Monday, and by Friday the union had developed background information, had material on its website, and had sent an email to all members with steps to take to oppose the new licensure proposal. Third, the membership was weary of backroom deals and was ready for a fight. The rank-and-file responded by the thousands, and local unions were gearing up to get every member to weigh in on the issue.
Fourth, this was an issue that unified the membership. Every teacher knew that her license, her teaching career, was in jeopardy. Fifth, the powers-that-be had never confronted a teachers union leadership and membership prepared to fight (in fact, spoiling for a fight). For the past many years, whenever teachers were threatened the union entered negotiations to plan an orderly retreat. The DESE probably expected the same “let’s make a deal” response this time, and were caught by surprise by the strength of the response.
Finally, Madeloni made it clear that the union was not going to compromise; we were going to fight until we won, and the campaign that started strong was building momentum throughout the three weeks it took to win.
In fighting similar corporate reform measures around the country, teachers can’t assume a mobilized base and progressive leadership will always secure a comparable victory. There are structural constraints that sheer militancy can’t overcome. But it’s certainly a precondition for success.
At two o’clock this afternoon I will be at the gym. That’s my scheduled workout time with my trainer Mike.
At a little after two o’clock Judge Belz will make public his decision on pension theft and Senate Bill 1.
I will ask trainer Mike if I can check my iPhone for the news and he will be suspicious that my request is just so I don’t have to get down and plank.
I hate those.
So I may not know the decision until three o’clock.
And I won’t be able to post until four or four thirty.
If Judge Belz rules in favor of constitutional law it will be a great victory. Not just for those of us in Illinois public employee pension funds. It will be, as my friend Glen Brown constantly reminds us, a victory for the concept of a society’s moral and legal obligations to its citizens.
I am not so high-minded as my friend Glen.
I will consider it a kick-ass victory over the likes of Mike Madigan, Pat Quinn, State Senator Dan Biss and Representative Elaine Nekritz.
If I see them I will gloat.
It will also be a victory over those in our own ranks who wanted to compromise our pension rights. There were those among our own leaders who thought it was too risky to demand payment in full on what was promised us.
Too risky to challenge Madigan.
Too risky to withdraw political endorsements and campaign contributions.
Too risky to go to court.
Too risky to call out our troops because our leaders are convinced the rank-and-file are too weak and afraid.
But they think everything is too risky.
And if Judge Belz rules against us?
Then the union and association lawyers will take it to the Illinois Supreme Court and we will fight another day.
My friend IEA General Counsel Mitch Roth explained the possible scenarios in an email he sent out yesterday in advance of Judge Belz ruling today.
The other scenarios are not within Mitch’s area of responsibility.
Even when the ISC rules and it rules for us, this is not over.
The Democrats will come at us again with another pension theft scheme that they concoct.
Bruce Rauner is already betting that the courts will rule SB1 illegal.
He’s drawing up plans to convert our defined benefit plan into an investment opportunity for his Wall Street pals.
You know who they are?
They are the ones who contributed to his campaign war chest.
The ones it is rumored are under SEC investigation.
We will talk about this again around 4:30.
From: “Roth, Mitch”
Date: November 20, 2014 at 4:16:55 PM CST
Subject: Pension Lawsuit Decision to Issue Tomorrow at 2
Today, a hearing was held in Sangamon County Circuit Court in the Pension lawsuit on our motion that the State constitution’s pension clause does not permit the State to impair or diminish pension benefits under any circumstances. The judge will issue his written decision tomorrow at 2. If the judge rules in our favor, he will be deciding that SB 1 is unconstitutional. Even if he rules against our motion, it won’t mean that he is ruling that SB 1 is constitutional. It will only mean that he wants to hear evidence on the State’s claim that in severe financial circumstances, it can diminish pension rights. Once he hears that evidence, he could very well still decide that the law is unconstitutional because the State hasn’t made the case that the situation is so dire that it can abrogate pension benefits. We will keep you posted.
SPRINGFIELD, ILL. — A Sangamon County judge says he’ll issue a ruling Friday over the constitutionality of Illinois’ pension overhaul.
Attorneys wrapped up oral arguments Thursday over whether the Illinois Constitution bars lawmakers from cutting their pension benefits.
Lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn approved a law in December 2013 overhauling the operation of Illinois’ pension systems. Years of underfunding have put them roughly $100 billion short of what they need to cover benefits promised.
The law reduces benefits for retirees, but also reduces employee contributions.
The lawsuit alleges the Constitution prohibits reducing any benefits or compensation once they’re promised. But the state says pension benefits are a con