On the day before the election Glen and I talk pensions and the failure of union leadership.

glen-and-me

Glen Brown and I are teachers and bloggers who met in the fight against pension theft. That meet-up has blossomed into a full-blown friendship that has lasted for a number of years. You can find Glen’s blog here. 

This is the second in what we think might be an on-going discussion of things that interest us. It is cross-posted on both our blogs.

Feel free to join in.

Glen Brown: We both remember there was a plethora of union members (that the unions’ leadership did not acknowledge at the time of Senate Bill 2404 3 ½ years ago) who did not support a decision to cut their benefits and rights already guaranteed by the State and U.S. Constitutions.

Senate Bill 2404 “attempt[ed] to extract a pretense of agreement from individual public employees and retirees to the reduction of their vested pension rights…; [SB 2404] force[d] a retiree to choose between pension rights and health care coverage. [This] rested upon an assumption that the State ha[d] an unlimited right to exclude a public employee or retiree from participation in a health insurance program…”

Though you and I and a few others had warned the IEA at the time not to negotiate its members’ rights and benefits, the We Are One Illinois Labor Coalition’s acquiescence to modify retirees’ and public employees’ rights and benefits in May, 2013 was an example of the leaderships’ foolishness and inexcusable capitulation of their members’ constitutional guaranteed rights and benefits.

Though “rights may be modified via legitimate contract principles” (or by what is commonly called consideration), we must insist that the leadership of the We Are One Coalition will never exchange for reductions originally-vested benefits assured by the Illinois Constitution.
We must also insist that the IEA pronouncement made a few years ago, “…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,” means unequivocally a re-amortization of the pension debt and reform and modernization of the state’s regressive single-rate tax structure to sufficiently address the funding of the public retirement systems and the state’s vital services.

“To work with anyone of good faith” on the State of Illinois’ revenue and debt problems is what the union membership expects, but without reckless concessions and compromise. Your comments and concerns.

 

Fred Klonsky: As a union member my entire working life, I believe in bargaining and negotiating. Because of that, some might wonder why I agree with you that the IEA leadership must never be allowed to bargain our pension benefits.

I believe it was at the Illinois Education Association’s 2010 Representative Assembly that I as a delegate rose to the microphone and opposed then-IEA President Ken Swanson’s proposal to allow leadership flexibility in negotiating pension reform with Michael Madigan and the Democrats.

Previously, IEA lobbyists were basically forbidden to even talk about pension changes with legislators. But Swanson won the vote. A week later Michael Madigan – having received our signal of flexibility – pushed through in 12 hours a bill that created Tier 2. Tier 2 meant that after January 1, 2011 new teachers would have to work longer to receive a pension and receive 60% less upon retirement. And it served to further undermine the financial stability of the pension systems.

Negotiating and bargaining require tactics that flow from principles. Years ago the IEA laid out three principles for pension reform:

  1. Any changes to pension benefits must be constitutional.
  2. Any changes cannot be allowed to undermine the financial stability of the pension systems.
  3. Any changes must benefit all the members.

I believe that the bargaining and negotiating process must allow for tactical flexibility. But tactics are never just tactics. Tactics and principles are tightly bound together.

When the IEA leadership sacrificed new teachers to Tier 2, they violated their principles by sacrificing young teachers and young members of the union. When they agreed to SB 2404, they sacrificed retired members as well as the interest of current members.

How can they be trusted in the future to bargain tactically based on their own principles?

Trust in leadership requires three elements:

  1. Leaders must be empathetic. They must keep the interests of the entire membership in mind.
  2. Leaders must be competent. They must be counted on to be good at what they do.
  3. Leaders must adhere to principles. They must be considered reliable to do what they have promised.

How do current IEA leaders measure up?

As I pointed out, they sold out young teachers, current members, and retired members. They totally misjudged Madigan and the legislature in allowing them to bargain Tier 2. Their tactics violated their own principles.

They can’t be relied upon to do what they promise. That is why we warn IEA members not to allow those who claim to lead to sit at the table and bargain consideration. The current IEA leadership cannot be trusted to bargain and negotiate anything to do with our pension benefits.

For that we would need not just new leaders, we would need an entirely different kind of leaders.

Glen: No doubt, the IEA leadership has had a poor track record for years. It was the IEA that gave us the flawed “Pension Ramp” (Public Act 88-0593) signed into law in 1995 that exacerbated the unfunded liability.

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 absurdities that confront today’s teachers.

I am sure you remember the Representative Assembly in April of 2015. The IEA never talked about strategies for after the Supreme Court ruling — no plan on how to proceed in protecting our pensions again and battling the privatization of public schools; no discussion about pushing the issue of a progressive income tax again or preventing the possibility of the state transferring the normal costs (to pensions) to school districts; no strategies were debated for dealing with a despotic governor and his right-to-work agenda and vehement attacks on unions; no thoughts about promoting a progressive candidate early on for governor for the next election to avoid supporting another ALEC candidate and a politician who signed the so-called pension reform bill; no tactics were discussed for engaging the many liars and thieves of the Illinois General Assembly, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Civic Federation, the Illinois Policy Institute, and the biased media… I agree with you, Fred, categorically.

Fred: Thanks for bringing up Senate Bill 7.

If you remember it was my blog that exposed the alliance between the corporate reform group Stand for Children and both the state’s teacher unions in drafting the bill that destroyed seniority, tenure and linked teacher evaluation to individual student performance on standardized tests like PARCC.

I posted a video from the Aspen Institute where Stand for Children’s Jonah Edelman praised IEA Executive Director Audrey Soglin for supporting Value Added Measures and other corporate education reforms. The video went viral.

It was Audrey Soglin that drafted the law that brought the Performance Evaluation Reform Act to Illinois (PERA). She put the jobs of thousands of teachers at risk because as veteran teachers they could be easily replaced by cheaper, less-experienced teachers. Unfortunately, Soglin remains as Executive Director of the IEA.

This goes back to the matter of trust. Where is the empathy? The competence? The adherence to principles?

Glen. Do you recall when the Supreme Court of Illinois issued their decision upholding the pension protection clause? One of the points that the court made was that if the state could use police powers to seize our pensions by declaring an emergency that the state itself created, no one’s rights or property was safe from similar confiscation.

So it is with that we are able to connect the dots of the IEA leadership’s role on pension reform, teacher seniority, collective bargaining, and education reform.

Most recently, the IEA’s political arm, IPACE, endorsed Governor Rauner’s GOP Senate Leader Christine Radogno for re-election. I tell you, Glen. On the one hand, I don’t envy the young teachers coming into the profession and into the union today. On the other hand, I wish I was still a young man in the thick of the fight.

3 thoughts on “On the day before the election Glen and I talk pensions and the failure of union leadership.

  1. A Case in Point: IEA-NEA Proposed legislative Platform Amendment #2, April 17, 2015

    The Association also remains opposed to any unconstitutional changes to the laws governing retirement benefits that diminish or impair current members’ benefits. However, the Association supports any proposal that otherwise creates fair, practical, and constitutional solutions which sustain the long term viability of the pension systems.

    Proposed Language Changes to the above Decree:

    The Association opposes any diminishment or impairment of the pension benefits for current and future members.

    Rationale for the one sentence revision (submitted by ShiAnne Shively and seconded by Tim Allaire):

    Senate Bill 1 is currently in the courts and hopefully will be ruled as unconstitutional. This change removes any ambiguity and clarifies what the IEA will oppose.

    Unfortunately, the proposed changes to the wording was struck down by the majority of delegates of the IEA-RA Assembly (and to the delight of the IEA president) without thorough discussion. It took a calculated political manipulation by an ex-IEA president against the proposed legislative platform amendment, the IEA members’ failure to remember any of the aforementioned IEA supported agreements in the past, and an outright fabrication by the IEA’s lawyer meant to instill fear and doubt to make sure the majority of the IEA delegates voted against the new unequivocal language that was proposed in amendment #2.

  2. Dear Fred,

    With the past record of failure after failure, why would any member want the present union leadership to “negotiate” anything related to retirement? What should be “demanded” is the mass resignation of both unions’ state leadership for malfeasance and/or incompetence.

    No retired teacher should even be willing to continue as a member of either union. All we have seen is repeated attempts to give away (or be snookered out of) already earned benefits owed to actives and retirees.

    AND they have the nerve to call it “cooperating in a spirit of fairness”! How they can even show their faces is beyond me.

    • Since winning collective bargaining rights for public employees 35 years ago, it is hard to think of one major political victory the state’s two teacher unions have won.

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