Jeff Johnson: Chicago’s budget and shared sacrifice of workers.

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This writer and Jeff Johnson, President of the Municipal Employees Society of Chicago (right).

– By Jeff Johnson. Jeff is President of the Municipal Employees Society of Chicago.

Rahm’s budgets have included slight of hand shell games fooling taxpayers for years. The city budget has been close to $1 billion in the red each of the last four years. In ten years we have gone from $10 billion in debt to the current debt of $21.4 billion.

Yet Rahm gets false credit for righting the financial ship and saving Chicago in the media.

The picture has been painted that Chuy hasn’t the intestinal fortitude to handle the burden of Chicago’s budget.

I say after four years of past practice Rahm is the only one that lacks in that category.

Public relations is a wonderful thing when a plan comes together.

No matter what budget Jesus Garcia presented was going to get ripped to shreds.

He presented a fiscally responsible plan that focused not so much on increased fees but taking a thorough look at the cities finances while giving ideas on increased revenue.

Reporters stuck on the angle Chuy isn’t ready for the job asked questions they wouldn’t dare ask Rahm.

Chicago taxpayers have given their hard earned money for far too long to have it squandered by self serving elected officials. Only after a unbiased eye can we truly find how much is being wasted and begin to plan towards the future.

Much is made about pensions and the fix, the true answer is that there is no easy fix. But most city workers you talk to are eager to find a common ground for pension solvency.

“Employee givebacks” are made a big thing by politicians eager in sharing the pain. Most employees would agree to a cut in pay by increasing their pension contributions now.

Increasing our contributions .50% each year towards the pension fund for 5 years shows we are willing to give now and share in the pain of benefit cuts as we are paying more to a plan we are not receiving anything additional for. You would be hard pressed to find any contract that one side paid 25% more and didn’t ask for anything more in return for their increased payment. This shows the devotion and compassion that city workers have in fixing the pension problem. Paying more than anyone in the country is a testament of being dedicated to taking a part of the solution.

When the current pension bills are struck down as unconstitutional there will be a sky if falling mentality amongst some. Know that we wish to work together and solve the problem of pension funding that has gone on way too long. Retirees have given their lives to their work and ceased working under a deal made to ensure a dignified ease into the golden years. To pull the rug out from under them and prey on the most vulnerable is illegal and immoral. Only through shared sacrifice of increased funding on both sides can we achieve a true fix to pension solvency.

Are the wealthy Democrats or Republicans? They’re just wealthy. Like Byron Trott.


Chicago’s Byron Trott back in 2009.

I like the Chris Rock routine where he explains the difference between rich and wealthy.

“Shaq is rich,” explains Rock. “The mother-f….. who writes his check is wealthy. Oprah is rich. Bill Gates is wealthy. If Bill Gates woke up tomorrow with Oprah’s money, he would jump out of the window and slit his throat on the way down.”

Eden Martin is the lawyer for the wealthy. Oh. He handles some of the rich ones too.

In an op-ed piece in the Sun-Times he pretends to be running for Illinois governor and argues that if the courts do as expected and find pension theft unconstitutional, than Illinois would just have to stop spending money on everything else.

Period.

Because Illinois is broke.

Hell, Illinois ain’t broke!

Did you hear about Byron Trott of Chicago?

He is a boutique hedge-fund manager.

His job is to help the wealthy get wealthier.

He learned his trade at Goldman Sachs.

Pals with Warren Buffet and Henry Paulson.

And the Koch brothers.

Because Trott is a Democrat.

And a Republican.

He gave $25,000 to Rauner’s exploratory committee.

And a member of Rahm’s boy’s club.

And does business with the Koch brothers.

Trott has prominent companions in his Colfax investment. Koch Industries Inc., a Wichita, Kansas–based company involved in oil refining, ethanol and paper, purchased 1.6 million shares in 2012. The company, with billionaire owners Charles and David Koch, also invests in Trott’s private-equity funds, regulatory filings show.

What’s my point?

One is that Illinois isn’t broke.

We have tons of money being made here.

Both Democrats and Republicans have made Illinois a safe haven for the rich AND the wealthy.

I’m not sure why Bruce Rauner had to hide his money in the Cayman Islands. It was doing fine right here in Illinois.

Eden Martin threatens Trott will leave town if we charge him for working here.

Where’s he going to go?

Muncie?

No offense, Muncie.

Deadbeat Illinois.

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Long-term care Medicaid patients will soon be turned away. They will die as a result. Photo: Springfield Journal Register.

As a Illinois House committee votes on the Nekritz pension bomb today, keep making those phone calls.

But in the mean time, let us momentarily set the pension issue aside but continue the discussion of why this is a revenue problem,  not a pension problem.

Illinois is rich, but the state government is broke.

It is the result of the fact that Illinois is among the lowest taxing states and lowest spending states in the US. Combined with a flat income tax that treats rich and poor exactly the same, we have a recipe for disaster.

A disturbing article in the Springfield Journal Register this morning is a good place to start.

Illinois elderly patients requiring long-term care are being screwed, as are the facilities that care for them.

ROCKFORD — Organizations that provide long-term care for the elderly in Illinois operate in a kind of business limbo, unsure of when they’ll receive from the state the Medicaid reimbursements they rely on to keep their doors open.

Right now, the payment backlog is about six months, forcing organizations to find creative ways to manage without half of the annual revenue that finances care for two-thirds of patients in nursing homes and about 60 percent of those in assisted-living centers.

Illinois deliberately delays paying its bills in an effort to manage its broken finances. The practice shifts the burden onto all sorts of state contractors, including long-term care facilities, which must borrow money and, in some cases, leave  jobs vacant as they wait on the state.

The most terrifying result of all of this is that soon long-term care facilities will simply turn away those patients who are on Medicaid.

They will die as a result.

Even crazy Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka will tell you there is no way the state can pay its bills.

The situation is so bad, that the Springfield Journal Register is running a series.

Reporters from GateHouse Illinois newsrooms examine the real-world effects of the state’s failure to pay its bills. Each Monday, we’ll share the stories of those affected.

 Every Monday.

They will document the results of Illinois’ low tax on the rich-low spending on the needy economic policy.

They won’t be pretty stories.

Ty Fahner. The Paul Ryan of Illinois pension reform. No time for details.

The Civic Committee’s Ty Fahner.

Remember the election of of 2012?

It was all the talk before the General Petraeus thing.

Remember we had this VP candidate who was famous for his bogus budget plan that was  so lacking in details that it became a running joke on late night TV? The proposal was big on cuts to the poor and Social Security. But when Congressman Ryan was asked for supporting data or details, he would smile and say he didn’t have the time to go into the details.

Now we have the head of the corporate Civic Committee playing Paul Ryan on the issue of state employee pensions.

Crain’s reports that yesterday Ty Fahner went to the media and declared the state’s public pensions unfixable and then called for cost of living cuts, raising the retirement age, capping pension earnings and shifting the cost of the pension obligation of teachers to local school districts. Before reporters, Fahner pointed to a prop one inch thick binder that he said had all the numbers. But he wouldn’t share the binder with the press

In a phone interview this morning, Mr. Fahner said his group reached its conclusions based on a series of actuarial studies that are “an inch thick.” Mr. Fahner, a lawyer and top GOP fundraiser who once served as Illinois Attorney General, said he is not now releasing his actuarial studies but said he would do so if legislative leaders disclose theirs.

He won’t show his unless the legislature shows their’s?

In fact, this is just warmed-over corporate blather. And a rerun of both the Paul Ryan proposals and Ryan’s lack of supporting facts.

Note that there is nothing in the former Republican Attorney General’s proposals to suggest that a lack of revenue might be the problem. And nothing was presented to suggest that any of these cuts will do anything to pay the now %90 billion dollar unfunded pension liability, that by law, must be paid.

It was Fahner himself who admitted on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight that if an employer in the private sector had failed to do what the state has done to employee retirement pensions over these past 50 years, they would have been indicted.

Yet, as John Dillon points out, “If anyone would have an inside track on how pensions were underfunded to begin with, it would be Mr. Fahner, who served as an appointed Attorney General of Illinois under Governor “Big Jim” Thompson, who managed the pension holiday program effectively to the point that the funded ration for pensions dropped from 90% to 30%.” 

Fahner wrote the last pension busting bill, SB512. It couldn’t get enough votes to even be called.

Fahner wrote the letter announcing that the SB412 would be withdrawn, a first in Illinois legislative politics: a private citizen deciding whether a bill gets voted on by the General Assembly.

Fahner is back doing his best Paul Ryan impression.

Remember Paul Ryan?

He didn’t win.

Rahm brings Wilmette bargaining style to Chicago.

“We buy the cheapest paper. Why not the cheapest teachers.”

I have a teaching pal who proudly hails from a working class suburb on the south-west side of Chicago.

For years he has described for me the difference between the boards of education from these communities and those from the tonier north suburban and north shore suburbs.

Intuitively folks think that teachers up north get more respect, higher salaries and bargaining that goes smoother.

Not so.

“Parents and those that sit on the board of education are very respectful of teachers and the hard work we do,” my buddy always tells me. “People work hard for their money. But they are concerned about their children’s futures and they are willing to pay top dollar to get good teachers.”

My own bargaining experience has been decidedly different. I have spent my professional teaching career in a north suburban school district. The bargaining scenario has, with a few exceptional years,  always played out the same. It’s like squeezing blood from a turnip.

It can be characterized by a comment made by a parent at a board meeting a few years ago. “If we look to buy the cheapest paper, why not the cheapest teachers?”

One year a board member told the union bargaining team, “You have to understand that to us, teachers are just one more cost that needs to be contained.”

This difference in attitude towards teachers as a reflection of economic class differences is supported by an article in today’s Chicago Sun-Times.

If you want to take home Illinois’ top dollar in teacher pay over time, don’t head to Chicago, where beginning salaries start out strong but fade in the stretch

Don’t even head to tony Winnetka or Lincolnshire.

Head straight to the near southwest suburbs. Blue-collar Burbank. Working-class Summit. Middle-class Oak Lawn.

A pocket of suburbs southwest of Chicago — some of them kissing the city’s border — have a blue-chip salary schedule that rewards starting teachers as well as the most veteran, highly credentialed ones with some of the steepest teacher pay in the state. Their beginning and ending teacher salaries are among the top 15 in Illinois.

The compensation surpasses even what is paid in Winnetka and Lincolnshire, where bottom and top scales are nothing to weep about, coming in among the top 25 in the state.

It appears that Rahm Emanuel has brought the Wilmette attitude towards teachers to the bargaining table in Chicago.

Note that recent polls show that the attitude of  the working class parents of Chicago public school children are similar to their south suburban counterparts. They overwhelmingly support the teachers in the current bargaining process.

When I sat down with our bargaining team and the representatives of the board, the first thing we would agree on was a list of comparable districts. We often referred to these at the “north forty.” They were the districts that made up the north suburbs and north shore. We used these to check that both side’s proposals reflected the market.

Our mistake.

We should have looked south.

The Velderman, Olson, IPI, Chuck Goudie connection. And where is the IEA on the Big Lie?

Ben Velderman and Chuck Goudie. Separated at birth?

As I read the phony expose by ABC’s Chuck Goudie’s I-Team (“I-Team” apparently standing for the “I’ in Illinois Policiy Institute) on teacher pensions, I kept thinking I’d heard this all before.

And I had.

Back in February of 2011.

Kyle Olson did a blog post about how Wisconsin teachers didn’t pay into their pension. He had read the contracts. And they said that the board would “pick up” the pension payment.

I pointed out at the time that this was typical Education Action Group nonsense. That “pick up” meant that the board would send the teacher payment directly to the pension system rather than the teacher writing a check. The board was simply a conduit.

EAG is a small group in Michigan that we have talked about before. Their Ben Velderman was the one who filed the FOIA request for my emails.

They are funded (although they go to great lengths to hide their funders) by groups who are in turn funded by the Koch brothers.

The Illinois Policy Institute is similar. Another corporate funded outfit.

ABC Chicago has now become the public relations front for the AEG, Koch brothers and IPI. With their faux investigative unit treating IPI press releases like they were evidence of scandal.

There is no scandal. Teachers pay their share of TRS.

And where is the IEA on this?

Why are independent bloggers the only ones responding?

They should be on this story like white on rice.

Kenneth Cole. Is it the shoes?

H/T NYC Educator

The picture of the billboard showed up on lots of Facebook and blog sites this weekend.

Kenneth Cole, shoe monger and brother-in-law of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, put up the billboards. They showed a picture of a woman in red with lots of cleavage and a message that teacher unions didn’t care about students. Odd juxtaposition of message and image.

Kenneth Cole doesn’t like unions.

In fact, Cole is complicit in the murder of union organizers in the third world countries where his shoes are made.

Aminul Islam, a head of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) and the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, disappeared from the country’s main textile center of Ashulia on Wednesday after receiving a call from a worker requesting assistance.

“His legs had severe torture marks including a hole made by a sharp object. All his toes were broken,” the local police chief told AFP.

Police discovered his body dumped by a roadside Friday, reportedly burying it in “a state-run graveyard the next day after finding no claimant.”

BCWS’ Kalpona Akter, who was arrested and imprisoned along with Islam in 2010 on charges related to their labor activism, accused Bangladeshi security forces and garment firm owners of responsibility for her colleague’s murder.

Islam, 40, had fought for years to organize garment workers to push for higher wages and safer factories, forcing one of the worst paying countries in the world to increase the minimum wage in 2010. Last month the BCWS was featured in an ABC News investigation into labor violations in Bangladesh’s apparel industry.

The ABC story focused on a 2011 factory fire that killed 29 workers and led Phillips-Van Heusen to commit more than $1 million to improving standards in the factories that produce clothing for many of the world’s most recognizable brands including Calvin Klein, Nautica, Kenneth Cole and Timberland.

The in box: The other side speaks.

Fred,
As most true professionals know, you can not really be a professional if you are in a union…sorry. Please do everyone a favor at your school and go away and retire. You are a bully, a bad teacher and nuisance to effective leadership. Let’s face face it Fred, it is teachers like you and the ones you intimidate that are the real problem. Oh by the way, I can see why the other techers (sic) fear crossing you since you out weigh (sic) them by 100 pounds (sorry to pick on your weight).

“I am a union rep, you can’t do that to me” says Fred.

Please just go away and the sooner the better!

Bye Bye
~a PaperCut follower

Dear follower,

I thought folks should know the kind of people who hate unions. Have you noticed that you have this thing about saying something kind of dumb and then saying you’re sorry for saying it. Thanks for your input.

-Fred

BP receives $5.1 billion in settlements. RECEIVES?

This morning’s paper reports that BP will receive $25o million in a settlement with Cameron International. Cameron made the faulty blowout preventer.

This will be put in the pot of $5.1 billion that BP has received so far in settlements from other contractors.

Yes. I had to read that twice as well. BP has received $5.1 billion from the Gulf spill.

Plus. BP received, along with the other Big Five oil companies, $4 billion in tax subsidies. 

This is all on top of the $35 billion they received in profits in just the 2010 4th quarter.

It is reported that tomorrow Congress may pass the tax credit for working families. It is worth about $500 for those earning $50,000.

Merry Christmas.

People have the power.

The Illinois teacher pension battle isn’t over by a long shot. In fact, I would urge teachers to send an email to their General Assembly rep every day until the legislators adjourn.

But it looks good that the overwhelming opposition to SB 512 last Spring, and the continued mobilization of opposition by grassroots organizers made up of retired and active teachers, acting as part of a loose network of pension fighters, may have done the trick.

Maybe.

But friends. Drive a stake into that thing. Kill it. Stomp on it. Make sure it is dead.

What can’t be counted on is our leaders, who only in the past few days have decided they might make some robo-calls.

Day late. Dollar short.

One of my favorite political songs is People Have the Power by Patti Smith.

It looks now as if Mayor Emanuel and CPS CEO J.C. Brizard have thrown in the towel on their union busting 90 minute add-on plan. In spite of massive pressure to try and get teachers to break with the contract, only 13 schools did. Over 400 stood firm and supported their union.

People have the power.

Today on Wall Street, some are predicting 40,000 people will join #occupywallstreet, the young folks who have been camped out in Liberty Plaza. Unions and community groups have pledged to march.

Some of the union leadership are joining enthusiastically. Others, grudgingly.

The AFTs President Randi Weingarten may not be able to make it after partying too late last night with union basher Stephen Brill.

No matter.

People have the power.