Karen Lewis and Jesse Sharkey.
– Letter to the Editor of the Chicago Sun-Times by CTU VP Jesse Sharkey
The Chicago Sun Times in an editorial recently criticized teachers, nurses, library assistants and truck drivers for suing the city to retrieve drastic pension cuts imposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Earlier this year, the mayor pushed for a bill to cut pension benefits by nearly 30 percent on city workers in the Municipal Employees and Annuity and Benefits Fund (MEABF) by lowering, and in some years eliminating, cost of living adjustments and increasing the amount that employees must contribute to their pensions. Many retired workers in the MEABF survive on modest benefits, an average of about $30,000 per year, that allow them to barely make ends meet.
One of the Chicago Teachers Union’s members covered by the plan is Arlene Williams, a former vision and hearing aide who is already paying nearly $1,000 in out-of-pocket monthly health costs, and stands to lose an additional $1,000 a year because of the new law. Arlene worries she may lose her home if she sees any further reduction in benefits. In an economy where rising costs and inflation are imminent, the future diminished retirement security for countless public servants, is all but inevitable. Instead of reducing the incomes of the most vulnerable workers in the city, the mayor could advocate for pensions for all workers. There are multiple ways to do this, and the Sun Times only offered a few.
The La Salle Street Tax could easily bring over $1 billion a year into city coffers, not to mention a graduated “fair” income tax at the state level, an end to toxic swaps, and reform of the city’s notorious TIF program. Has the mayor ever offered any revenue plan that does not involve cutting worker benefits, raking tax payers over the coals with red-light cameras, cellphone fees and the like? Perhaps it’s time for some real “shared sacrifice” where the mayor’s friends at Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Loop Capital give back some of the record profits they have reaped from the schools and the city. Tax fairness would allow retirees to enjoy a modicum of comfort in their golden years after a lifetime of service.
Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President