Saturday coffee.

Haymarket Square, Chicago. 1886.

As we get ready to celebrate May Day tomorrow at the rededication of the monument to the Haymarket martyrs at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery, the pension of every public school teacher in Illinois outside of Chicago is at risk.

When we sat around the table with Park Ridge state Senator Dan Kotowski last week, my friend and colleague Mark said it best: This threat to our pension is not just (just!) an attack on the Constitution of the state of Illinois. It is an abrogation of a covenant made to the teachers of the state’s children.

Here is one of my concerns.

When we met with Dan Kotowski, there were five teachers from my local. Fifty out of a total of 380 will take the day off next Wednesday and ride the bus almost four hours to Springfield to meet with Kotowski again and with whoever will listen.

Where was the rest of Region 36 of the IEA? How many will be in Springfield?

I know the retired teachers will be there.

Talk to state and local leaders and they blame the apathy of the membership.

Bullshit.

We didn’t have any trouble filling a bus. We just had to talk to the members.

If you talk, they will come.

This is a grave leadership problem. It is a problem at the state and Region level.

Region Chairs make up the IEA Board of Directors. These are the same people who either sat on their hands or gave a green light to Ken Swanson’s sellout on SB7, the bill that will surrender our seniority rights and make toothless the threat of a strike in bargaining.

These are the same people who we need to talk to members and get them to Springfield to save teachers’ pensions.

You might see why I am concerned.

Here is the information from IEA on the pension threat:

Discussions currently taking place at the Statehouse could have a huge, negative
impact on the retirements of IEA members.

Under discussion are proposals that would either cut pension benefits for active
employees or, would or force those currently contributing to the state-funded
pension systems (including TRS and SURS) to pay more to keep what they
already are guaranteed under the Illinois Constitution.

Here is the explanation of the objectionable options being talked about:
1. To remain in the current pension plan, an active TRS member must pay a
pension contribution in excess of 25% of their salary. Currently, active TRS
members pay 9.4% of their salary and the total cost of the current TRS benefit
equals an estimated 18.4% of salary. The legislation also requires an additional
percentage of salary that is currently undeterminable and is tied to the funded
status of the plan.
2. To choose participation in the 2-tier pension benefit plan that passed last year
(retirement at age 67, reduced COLA, reduced final average salary). With this
choice, the member would be required to pay 6% of salary (currently, 9.4% of
salary in TRS). TRS has determined that the actual cost of the 2-tier benefit is an
estimated 5-6% of salary. In essence, there is no employer contribution required
and the members fund their own pension.
3. The option to participate in a defined contribution plan (401K style plan). The
member would pay 6% of salary, as would the state. Members would direct their
own investments.

We firmly believe that this type of proposal is unconstitutional and
wrong. We oppose for the following reasons:

It contains explicit violations of the Illinois Constitution. In Article XIII, Section 5 of
the Constitution (the “Pension Protection Clause”), it is stated,
“Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of
local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality
thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of
which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

We believe increasing the contributions for a member to maintain their current
pension benefit package is a direct violation of this clause since it would be a
change of a contractual relationship.

Forcing members to make a choice among “options,” knowing that each option
would amount to a smaller or a costlier pension benefit than that they would
otherwise be entitled, would violate the “Pension Protection Clause.”

Our members have never missed a pension contribution and to force members to
pay more so that the state can abrogate its responsibility once again is wrong.
IEA opposes the creation of a defined contribution plan; our members in TRS do
not receive Social Security for their years as an educator and thus have no
reliable retirement safety net.

Additionally, creating a defined contribution plan would divert much needed
contributions for the current defined benefit plan and would harm the financial
stability of the state retirement systems.

If you are an Illinois teacher and know this, how can you not be on the phone, at the door, in Springfield on Tuesday and Wednesday talking to your General Assembly rep?

If you call yourself a union leader, how can you not have this information in the hands of every Illinois teacher?

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