The siege mentality of the IEA leadership.


-Karl Gabbey

I understand the retirees’ frustration with the IEA. That frustration ought to be shared by all active members because some day, they too will be retirees.

Besides, many of today’s retirees are also active in the fight to save public education from the school reform grifters. They may not be in a classroom anymore, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve severed all ties with their former careers.

Doesn’t IEA’s leadership understand that there is strength in numbers? It’s simple math: All actives + All retirees = greater strength. What I don’t understand is the IEA leadership’s siege mentality and shortsightedness.

The organization’s stubborn support for Cullerton’s SB 2404, even when it was clear that it was setting a terrible precedent, that it was unconstitutional, that it was “DOA,” that a majority of Illinois’ lawmakers were untrustworthy, more than boggles the mind. Was the IEA leadership so overwhelmed by John Cullerton’s threats and intimidation? If that were the case, the leaders could have learned a valuable lesson from the IRTA.

The IEA’s support for Kirk Dillard, the Republican candidate and Illinois’ leader of ALEC, against Rauner in the Republican gubernatorial primary was very poor strategy which even outdid its support of SB 2404 on the stupidity scale. This isn’t Monday morning quarterbacking. At the time, a number of us were very critical of IEA’s support for Dillard. The IEA threw $4 million precious Dollars down Dillard’s rathole that could have been used to fight Madigan’s SB 1 or to support non-Madigan Democratic candidates for the General Assembly. The $4 million could have been used productively instead of wasting it on a character like Dillard who wouldn’t have done things much differently than Rauner.

I don’t write this to disparage the existence of the IEA. On the contrary, an organization like the IEA is absolutely necessary as a countervailing force against today’s moneyed interests that seek to harm public education and as an advocate for the interests of teachers (active & retired) and students. The IEA leadership would be far more effective if it would overcome its siege mentality and shortsightedness to lead us in the fight against those who want to wreck public education and destroy our retirement security.

5 Replies to “The siege mentality of the IEA leadership.”

  1. Their recent behavior also indicates that they are not that interested in really representing the issues of teachers and public education either. Maybe it is time for an alternative organization.

  2. …Let us also remember the flawed “Pension Ramp” (Public Act 88-0593) signed into law in 1995 that exacerbated the unfunded liability. Let us remember a previous IEA leadership (Haisman, et al.) supported Public Act 88-0593, and that the current IEA leadership “proudly supported” Senate Bill 7 that was signed into law in June 2011, the bill that ensured that teachers’ evaluations and their tenure were tied to the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (Public Act 96-0861), the bill that ensured a so-called “streamlined process for the dismissal of teacher tenure,” the bill that required an authorization of 75% for a strike vote in Chicago, to name just a few complications that confront today’s teachers…

    There should never be any negotiation of our constitutionally-guaranteed benefits with an Illinois General Assembly that has proven over and over again they will not negotiate to “create fair, practical, and constitutional solutions.” We already have the definitive “fair, practical, and constitutional solution” in place for us. It’s called the Pension Protection Clause, and it has always been and should remain non-negotiable…


  3. People who in this picture was elected to out TRS pension board????
    Conflict of interest here?????? How did we let this happen???

  4. What about the I.E.A.?

    Dear Fred,
    Sorry to be so long winded. I just felt that some of these things need to be said. One opinion among many. So much seems to get changed or left out of these discussions (everyone has their own revisionist history) that sometimes little seems to remain that bears any resemblance to what I believe to be truthful or accurate. So here goes. Whose truth anyone chooses to believe is up to them anyway.

    Maybe it is time to ask the question: What exactly is the I.E.A.? What purpose should it serve? Does it meet member needs? Is it worth belonging to?

    What is the I.E.A.? Is the I.E.A. a professional association? Is it a labor union? Depending upon who you ask, the answer changes. Some call it an association, some a union, some say neither, others say both.

    Opponents of the I.E.A. see these “identity issues” as openings to provoke unforced errors. They exploit this schizophrenic situation to their own benefit. This confusion weakens the organization and causes friction among its members.

    The I.E.A. clearly has identity issues. Sometimes they result in the I.E.A. failing to properly see and understand problems. This lack of understanding can lead to the adoption of ineffective positions and counterproductive action in response to these problems.

    The direct power of the I.E.A. is it’s role as a labor organization. In this role it promotes the interests of stakeholders through collective bargaining of wages, benefits, and conditions of employment. It also tries to promotes worker interests through political action.

    The main ability of the I.E.A. to influence how things are comes from the threat of withholding labor. Anyone employed as a teacher in Illinois before collective bargaining knows this fact. As a professional organization, the I.E.A. can only indirectly influence the treatment of its stakeholders.

    Teachers went from being beggars to equals because of collective bargaining and its implied possibility of work stoppage. Teachers would do well to remember that one goal of opponents is to return teachers to this position of servile cooperation. The I.E.A. would also be wise to remember this.

    The wedge issue driving the disconnect between retirees and the I.E.A. is pensions. It is difficult at best to reconcile the interests of active workers (and collective bargaining) with retiree pension rights (which are individual in nature).

    Has the I.E.A. identified and understood this particular problem? Why is it happening? The I.E.A. seems to view the problem as a benefits issue. They are mainly concerned about how this problem affects current employees. Retirees, not so much. They are not a core constituency of the I.E.A. so their situation is subordinate to active worker needs.

    Retirees see the problem as a governance issue. Will the state keep its word?
    The retiree view is that a cost and revenue problem affecting all aspects of state services for many years is being obscured by political scapegoating of an employee benefit. Retirees are being stuck with the bill. Adding insult to injury, the I.E.A. seems at times to be willing to let this happen.

    Is the problem really a pension problem? Or is it a revenue and debt service problem of the state? Here is a view from the “debt” perspective.

    For at least 50 years the state has failed to pay debt service on borrowed money. Politicians covered revenue shortfalls with money earmarked for pension fund contributions. That is where the “pension ramp” came from. It was really a debt service plan to pay back borrowed money. It had nothing to do with benefit costs, other than the fact that the costs had never been paid.

    That is the connection between pensions and debt. The actual cost of the benefit is modest. The unfunded liability is really almost entirely unpaid debt service. The I.E.A. has said little about this, allowing politicians to define the problem as a “pension problem”. I.E.A. silence helped make pensions the scapegoats.

    Rather than confronting the real issues surrounding state funds, the I.E.A. has chosen to “go along to get along”. When the debts owed could no longer be papered over, the I.E.A. volunteered that “Teachers want to be part of the solution”, and that “We should all share in the pain”. No one said, “Pay what you owe!” or, “Spend less on new things!”

    Elected officials came up with many possible ways to “help” the I.E.A. become part of the “solution” (stick employees with the bill). Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 2404 were just two of many ideas put forth to avoid anyone but public employees paying the debt that the state had accumulated. Never mind that the debt was earned and owed compensation to those same employees.

    For unions, the issue was how to keep pensions of active workers from being reduced to pay what was owed to retirees. Unions chose to throw retirees under the bus hoping to shield active workers.

    The “We Are One” labor coalition supported Senate Bill 2404 it was less draconian than other suggestions about cutting worker pensions for active employees. Most of the cost reductions in that bill were directed at retirees, while the replacement consideration was directed at active workers.

    As part of that coalition, I.E.A. agreed to support this choice. The I.E.A. did the math and chose to try to protect its active members (main revenue base) while sacrificing the constitutional rights of retirees (who don’t pay much in dues anyway).

    The I.E.A. and We Are One had no legal right to speak to retiree interests at all. They could legally only bargain for actively employed members. They did it anyway, and attacked anyone who challenged the “deal”.

    This illustrates one of the tensions between being an “association” and a “union”. The union responsibility is to protect the bargaining unit, while the association is supposed to help all members (retirees included). In the past, retiree chapters were maintained as a way to justify continued participation of I.E.A. retired leadership in the union. Now they are an ethics problem to be either marginalized or ignored if they complain.

    The fact of the matter is that labor (I.E.A. included) fell victim to the “divide and conquer” strategy of those who want to stick workers with the bill. They abandoned the interests of retirees and justified it with “seat at the table” and “we did the best we could” arguments. So retirees forced the lawsuit without the I.E.A.

    Some in I.E.A. leadership positions even attacked those who chose to stand and fight. Retirees learned not to count on the I.E.A.. Many moved on to join other organizations willing to defend pension rights. Now retirees are protected by the clear ruling of the Illinois Supreme Court that retiree pensions are to be left alone.

    Active employee pensions are still under attack. But it is hard to convince some retirees to feel sorry for an organization that abandoned them in their hour of need. Retirees remember how they were and are treated by the I.E.A. Some have had enough and take the position of “We are not teachers any more, It is not our fight. Just like our problems were not their fight.” Some retirees disagree with that position, but it is out there.

    The I.E.A.’s choice not to defend retirees has left active members to fight alone. Left to fight not only for their pensions, but to keep hard earned rights that the I.E.A. claimed were no longer under threat or relevant. It is time to be unified and stand together. If I.E.A. leadership can’t find any will to fight within themselves, it is time for new leadership.

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