Interview with myself.

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Q: You’re running as a retired delegate to the IEA Representative Assembly?

A: I’ve been elected as a delegate for over twenty years. Except last year when the Springfield office of the IEA lost my paperwork moving my active membership to retired membership.  But, yes. I sent my nomination form to President Klickna by certified mail yesterday.

Q: What’s the process?

A: It’s easy, really. Retired members can fill out the application that’s on the last page of the current IEA Advocate. It is also available online. Active teachers who are members of the IEA can run as a delegate from their local. Most IEA Regions run those elections and they are on a later cycle than the Retired. But many delegate slots go unfilled.

Q: What’s with that?

A: I don’t know. I get lots of emails and comments from IEA members who are concerned about the direction of our Association, but I don’t see them at the RA. Ever since we got the leadership to stop holding the RA at the scab Hyatt in Rosemont the RA has been in downtown Chicago. It’s not a bad place to spend a couple of days in March. We can go out for a couple of beers at Miller’s Pub after the sessions.

Q: I’ve heard you have a personal thing about President Klickna.

A: Funny. Because I don’t really know Cinda Klickna other than through some conversations we’ve had at meetings. What I’m concerned with is policy and practice of our union leadership, both elected and unelected.

Q: Can you be specific?

A: Just take the interview that she gave to the Springfield Journal-Register, where she says that the primary concern of the IEA is not the well-being of teachers, but rather it is the improvement of education. To me, this is an amazing distinction for our Association President to make. I believe that the best working conditions ARE the best teaching and learning conditions. The well-being of teachers is not an obstacle to improving education. It is the foundation of improving education.

Furthermore, this attempt to distance our Association from being a strong advocate for collective bargaining is just what I heard coming from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel at the NEA Representative Assembly last July in Atlanta.

I reported on his speech to the retirees on my blog and the leadership set their dogs on me. But the message keeps coming through.

Q: Klickna mentioned PERA, the Performance Evaluation Reform Act, as an example of something the union takes pride in getting passed in Illinois. Should the union take pride in PERA?

A: Ask that of the IEA delegate at the NEA RA who was sitting in front of me. A PE teacher for 8 years, he no longer has any job protection as a result of PERA and Senate Bill 7, which the IEA leadership collaborated with Stand for Children to get passed.

As an active union member in his building, he has not exactly won the love of his principal. Although he has seniority over two other PE teachers, he correctly fears that his principal will show him the door.

This is going on all over the state.

Q: Your plan?

A: I think those of us involved in the fight for schools, pensions and teachers’ collective bargaining rights have to have an inside strategy and an outside strategy. By that I mean that on things like pensions and school closings we need to unite with whoever we can to defeat the corporate agenda. But we also need to organize ourselves within our Association and demand better leaders. It only weakens the fight against the corporate school agenda when our leaders don’t have the fire in their belly to utter the word, “NO.”

Interview with myself.

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Q: What’s your prediction?

A: Miami Heat in four.

Q: No. About the pension vote in the Illinois General Assembly.

A: I remain convinced that the two chambers will not be able to agree on anything major this session. Unless…

Q: Unless what?

A: Unless they do. And if they do, it will go to court.

Q: Madigan says he has four votes on the court.

A: Madigan’s bluffing. Unless…

Q: Unless what?

A: Unless he’s not. The Illinois Supreme Court is elected and is a supremely political branch.

Q: What should we do while we wait for the court to decide?

A: Well. I think we need an inside and outside strategy. Inside the IEA and outside the IEA. We need to challenge the old way in which the IEA makes political recommendations. Check out that list of House members who voted with Madigan. I call them the “Madigan 62“. Many if not most of them received IEA’s IPACE recommendations.

Some will claim that we can’t just focus on one issue or use a single-issue litmus test for our endorsements. And in general I would agree. But this was the single most important vote on any issue of concern for teachers over the past four years.

There simply must be a push-back by our organization on what these elected officials did. Many of them looked our members in the eye and said they would not vote for an unconstitutional bill. And then did.

If our union is to have any respect we must be able to punish this betrayal.

But to do that we must change the way we do things in the IEA. To do that, the rank-and-file must challenge leadership to lead or we must find others to lead the IEA.

Q: What about the outside strategy.

A: I think we should primary members of the “Madigan 62” where possible.

Q: You sound like the Tea Party.

A: Well, okay. But the Tea Party without the racism, homophobia, anti-union, sexist, gun-crazed war-mongering.

There are already many vulnerable House members. Take Democrat Toni Berrios in my own House district. Will Guzzardi, a young activist with no money, took on Berrios last time. She is the daughter of one of the most powerful bosses in the Chicago Democratic Machine. Guzzarid came within 150 votes of beating her in the primary.

Q. Anything else?

A: I’m interested in hearing what others have to say.

Interview with myself: pensions.

What is Senate Bill 2404?

This is the bill backed by the We Are One coalition of public employee unions. It has three components.

It requires ‘ironclad” funding of the state’s obligation to the employee pension funds. It also includes a requirement of debt repayment.

We Are One says the bill allows for legal remedies by the pension systems or individuals if the payment into the systems aren’t made.

It requires that active employees pay an additional 2% into their pension systems.

Are you for it or against it?

I’m mostly for it.

I have a number of concerns.

I don’t believe anything is ironclad when it comes to Springfield.

For example, what if the pension obligation is shifted to the local school districts or municipalities?

If the obligation isn’t met, do we have to go and sue each one of these small government units at a time?

Senate President Cullerton has already said that if there were a progressive income tax he has no interest in using it to pay down the pension debt.

Some don’t believe that this General Assembly can require future General Assemblies to be bound by current promises.

So much for ironclad.

Then there is the 2% additional contribution.

I think it is a bad idea.

It muddies the issue of who is to blame for the underfunding of the pension systems. And it divides active employees who would have to pay the additional contribution from retirees who don’t.

Union leaders tell me that if they offer nothing, they will get nothing in return.

But those same union leaders tell me  that it will all end up in court anyway.

So why make the concession? It will do very little to address the debt, but will hurt individual teacher and public employees a great deal.

So, why are you for it?

First, who knows what a final bill will look like?

There will be a lot of movement and rewrites before anything gets passed.

If anything gets passed.

Secondly, we now have a bill that addresses the issue of funding – an admission that the solution is revenue – not cuts to the benefits of future or current retirees..

For pension activists SB2404 combined with HJRCA0002 – the amendment to the Illinois Constitution that will establish a progressive income tax –  means we now have a legislative agenda that stands in contrast to the Nekritz/Biss pension bomb.

Do you really think these two bills have a chance to pass in the form you want?

Who knows?

After all, this is Springfield we’re talking about.

What we  do know is that if we are going to change the conversation about pensions from cutting benefits to raising revenue, a movement is needed. 

Look how much has changed since a year ago.

Then we were all on the defense.

Now we have a few legislators openly supporting both a reliable funding stream and a fair tax constitutional amendment. With work, more will come over.

Because of our efforts, the common sense solutions of Ralph Martire and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability must be acknowledged whenever some politician talks about pensions, whether they agree with him or not.

Interview with myself.

Q: You’re going to Springfield tomorrow?

A: Yes. A couple of us our driving down at 7AM. Thousands more will be there.

Q: What’s up with that?

A: The Governor has called the General Assembly to meet for one day to address the pension issue. There are several ideas and bills that will be considered. They involve creating a forced choice for state workers between a cost of living adjustment and health care and shifting the cost of the state’s pension obligation to local towns and school districts.

Q: I take it you think this is a bad idea.

A: You take it right. Not only is it unfair to teachers. It is bad economic policy for a state that is still deeply in debt and state economy that continues to hit all working people very hard.

Q: Okay. We know what you are against. What are you for?

A. The issue must be reframed. Cutting working people’s earned benefits from a lifetime of hard work will only make matters worse. The Governor and the General Assembly must change the way revenue is generated. A flat tax that demands as much from the lowest wage earner making beds in a Hyatt Hotel as it does from Penny Pritzker who owns the hotel makes no sense. A graduated income tax would raise billions of dollars. It would revive the state’s economy. And it would be fair.

Q: What are your union leaders saying?

A: It is a muddled message. On the one hand they support the tax reform and restructuring. On the other hand they are still talking about agreeing to benefit cuts, including a 1% increase in the existing 9.4% contribution teachers already make to the Teacher Retirement System.

Q: Some have claimed you blame the union leadership for the current mess.

A: I blame them for the muddle. Not for the mess. Teachers want leaders to lead. We are not getting fighting leadership.

Q: What do you expect to happen tomorrow?

A: Following the angry reception that the Governor received at the State Fair on Wednesday, I expect a large crowd of angry state employees, including teachers. Most observers expect that the divisions among the Democrats and the divisions between the Democrats and Republicans will prevent anything from happening. But I’ve seen them do a lot of damage in a short time before. I would say that every teacher who is not working tomorrow and who can get to Springfield should get to Springfield. 

You can’t take your eyes off those people for one minute.