AFSCME and other city unions sue over Rahm’s pension cuts.

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AFSCME has joined with three other unions and a group of active and retired City of Chicago employees – including several AFSCME members – to file a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court seeking to overturn legislation that would sharply reduce pension benefits for city workers and retirees who participate in the Municipal Employees Annuity and benefit Fund (MEABF).

Filed Dec. 16, the lawsuit notes that active and retired city employees earned their promised pension in retirement and always paid their share into the pension fund. Meanwhile, politicians failed to make adequate payments and now seek to force workers and retirees alone to bear the burden of pension-cutting legislation that violates the Illinois Constitution.

“The constitution says clearly that pension benefits cannot be diminished or impaired, but that’s exactly what this legislation does to the modest pensions earned by city workers and retirees,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said.

The average yearly pension of a city retiree in the municipal fund today is just $34,000 – and city workers are not eligible for Social Security.

The constitutional pension protection clause is “an ethical and moral promise to provide a certain level of retirement security for the women and men who chose public service,” the suit states. “For many of these individuals, their pensions comprise their life savings and are all that that stands between them and poverty.”

Joining AFSCME in the lawsuit are the Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois Nurses Associations and Teamsters Local 700, as well as 12 individual plaintiffs – several of them AFSCME members – who work in or are retired from city libraries, schools, and the health, aviation, transportation and streets and sanitation departments.

“Those who currently are in the employ of the City of Chicago or the Chicago Board of Education teach our children, serve in libraries, make Chicago airports safe, fix our roads, collect our garbage, care for the ill, and perform myriad other essential services for the City of Chicago and its citizens,” the suit states. “Those who already have retired similarly dedicated their careers to the men, women and children of the City of Chicago.”

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs will seek an injunction to prevent the legislation from taking effect on January 1, 2015, as scheduled.

The initial hearing in the case is set for Dec. 29.

3-0 ruling by Illinois Appellate Court ruling defending Constitutional protections is an omen for pensions.


In a case with implications for the upcoming legal battle over pension reform, an Illinois appellate court in Springfield ruled that constitutional protections prevent the state from reducing mandated payments to county treasurers.

The pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution, which says that workers’ retirement benefits can’t be diminished, is at the heart of lawsuits challenging statewide pension changes enacted late last year.

While the county treasurers’ case relies on other language in the constitution, the appellate court’s decision yesterday is analogous, using the same legal arguments and precedents that teachers and other state workers are pressing in court against pension reform.

“It supports the arguments we have been making and will continue to make,” said John Fitzgerald, partner in Chicago law firm Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC, which represents retired teachers and school administrators, both active and retired, in a suit challenging the pension law.

The article added:

The opinion did not specifically mention the dispute over pensions, but lawyers for teachers and other state workers contend that overturning the pension law changes, which would force the Legislature to spend more money, would not violate the separation of powers principle.

Unions for active teachers and other state workers also are suing to overturn pension changes enacted last year, and the cases are likely to be combined and ultimately decided by the Illinois Supreme Court. The state’s response to the suits is due May 15.

Read the entire article here.

Pensions at the polls. The story of Travis and Guzzardi.

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Jay Travis and Will Guzzardi.

Back in May when the Illinois House voted for Senate Bill 1, many of us called on our union and political leadership to mount primary campaigns against those state representatives who voted to cut our constitutionally protected pensions.

Some we would win and some we would lose. Still, the message would be sent that there was a political price to pay for violating the public trust, for breaking a covenant, breaching a contract and ignoring the law.

At the state level, the leadership of the state’s public employee unions turned their backs on this strategy, sat on their collective hands, and created the present situation of actually encouraging voting for the recent and long-time state chairman of ALEC in the Republican primary for Governor.

In Chicago, the teachers union took a different path. In two state rep races the CTU took a risk and backed challengers to incumbent Democrats.

The pension issue is central to both races.

Early on, the challenge by Will Guzzardi in my 39th district attracted media attention. Will had challenged Machine incumbent Toni Berrios two years ago and came with in a hair of winning. This time it could be different. He has greater name recognition. He has more volunteers – passionate and committed ones. The kind that you can’t buy with a patronage job.

His position on public employee public pensions is unequivocal. The CTU is behind him. Even the anti-pension Tribune has endorsed him, which they explain that they do in spite of his strong pension stand.

Of course it helps (and hurts) to have slime dogs like Berrios and Madigan as your opponents.

A few miles to the east and south is the 26th District. There the CTU is backing Jay Travis. When Jay announced, nobody thought she could beat the incumbent Chris Mitchell. Mitchell is backed by the money bags of the Democratic Party, the regulars and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

But Mitchell is vulnerable. He voted against pensions in a district where 30% of the voters are public employees.

Even the pro-business Crain’s admits the problem.

Here, first-term Rep. Christian Mitchell, a fast-rising, 27-year-old Democrat who voted for the statewide pension overhaul last year, is facing a tougher-than-expected primary challenge.

Crain’s explains:

Teachers unions at the city, state and national level are mobilizing scores of volunteers and have secured more than $300,000 to potentially spend on behalf of Ms. Travis’ campaign, even if winning appears to be a long shot. Meanwhile, on the Northwest Side, the union is mounting a less costly bid to unseat Rep. Maria “Toni” Berrios, daughter of Cook County Assessor and Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Berrios.

The effort signals a bold shift in strategy for the CTU, which for years has doled out donations in a mostly even-handed fashion. Now, the union is targeting Democratic incumbents perceived to be vulnerable in the March 18 primary. The union’s message: CTU support should not be taken for granted.

“The teachers aren’t passive like they were 10 years ago,” says Sean Howard, a political consultant in Chicago with close ties to many of the city’s African-American political leaders.

After barely passing a pension bill in December for state workers and teachers outside Chicago, the Illinois General Assembly is under pressure to restructure the budget-busting outlays facing not only Chicago Public Schools but the city itself, which next year is to police and fire pensions by $590 million.

“Springfield is where we have to look to change the landscape politically,” says CTU President Karen Lewis, who lives in Mr. Mitchell’s 26th District. “I don’t know what the chances are, but I know we are not just going to quit.”

There will be time enough to draw all the lessons after March 18th, the date of Illinois’ primary election. Early voting has already begun.

But one lesson we can already take away is that there is no losing when our union leadership makes it politically costly for politicians to break a promise made to union members.

Breaking: Pensions suits consolidated by order of Illinois Supreme Court.

Associated Press:

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — The Illinois Supreme Court has ordered that four lawsuits challenging Illinois’ new pension reform law be consolidated.

The March 3 order transfers the case filed by a group of retired teachers in Cook County Circuit Court to Sangamon County Circuit Court, where the three other cases were filed.

The court says all of the cases will be heard together in Springfield.

Each of the groups’ lawsuits share the common claim that the new pension reform plan violates the state constitution, which says benefits may not be diminished or impaired.

Illinois’ five public-retirement systems had a $100 billion unfunded liability when the Legislature passed the pension reform measure in December.

The bill saves an estimated $145 billion, largely by cutting benefits for employees and retirees.

Next. Chicago public pensions in the cross hairs.

good cop bad cop

After the Illinois General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1, which cut public employee pensions – including the pensions of current retirees – the Democratic legislators who voted yes were flooded with angry phone calls, emails and snail mail letters.

In classic cover-their-ass mode, almost all these Democrats responded by saying something along the lines of, “Well. I don’t know. We just want the courts to decide.”

They should all run for re-election on that slogan: “I don’t know. Let the courts decide.”

The new General Assembly starts up in a few days and Democratic Party Senate President John Cullerton has let it be known that he considers major cuts in Chicago public employee pensions to be the main task of the new session.

“I’m not interested in kicking the can down the road. We want to pass a reform,” Cullerton, a close Emanuel ally, said as lawmakers prepare to return to Springfield for Quinn’s annual State of the State address Jan. 29.

While unionized teachers outside Chicago have vowed to fight the state changes in court, Cullerton said the new state pension law provides a road map for the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union to negotiate — particularly over curbing cost-of-living increases.

A number of public employee union leaders tried to paint Cullerton as the good guy in the recent pension fight. They pointed to SB2404, a deal negotiated between the We Are One coalition of public employee unions and Cullerton as an example.

“Cullerton understands the constitutional problem,” they told us.

But, as many of us pointed out, SB2404 also displayed a disregard for the pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution by cutting into current retiree cost of living adjustments. And the slippery slope of bargaining away constitutional protections is a steep one.

Section 5. Pension and Retirement Rights

Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.(Source: Illinois Constitution.)

In this good-cop/bad-cop relationship between Madigan and Cullerton, the victims remain public employees.

Many of my good friends believe that now that the state’s pension issue is in the courts we can afford to sit and wait for their decision.

No we can’t.

We always said that they will not stop with Senate Bill 1. For state employees the threat of further pension attacks remain. If the court rules against us, it will be a green light for the legislature to go further with some legislators arguing to do away with our current pensions entirely and turning the whole thing into a private annuity subject to the whims of Wall Street.

If the court rules for us, the legislature will have to address the issue again. Will they confront the real revenue problem? Or shift the pension costs to local school districts, which many of those districts simply cannot afford to pay without cutting staff, salaries and programs.

Most immediate is Chicago.

The constitutional and contractual guarantees afforded to Chicago teachers, police and firemen are no different than those of state employees and downstate (outside of Chicago) teachers.

Our work is not done.

Illinois Retired Teachers amend their law suit.

Last week I posted the statement of IEA President Cinda Klickna and IRTA President Bob Pinkerton regarding the legal challenge to Senate Bill 1.

It was a statement of unity in the face on the legal assault on our pension.

Today we received a notice from IRTA.

Within the next week, we will file a motion for leave to file an amended complaint.  The change to paragraph 11 is simply intended to clarify that the statutory term for COLAs is “automatic annual increase.”  The change to paragraph 34 is intended to eliminate any confusion over who is included in our class.  

11.       First, Public Act 98-0599 changes the formula used to calculate the automatic annual increases in pension annuities, so as to lessen the pension annuities that retirees currently receive and those that current employees had been promised.  Those automatic annual increases are commonly referred to as “cost of living adjustments,” or “COLAs,” and will be referred to as such in this Amended Complaint for ease of reference.
34.       Pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/2-801, the plaintiffs represent a class consisting of all individuals who are members of the Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois who are (a) retired teachers, or (b) active or retired school administrators.

I believe the language change is intended to calm those who made too much of the fact that the IRTA initially stated that they were filing the suit on behalf of the non-union members of the Association.

This should clarify that it is a class action suit on behalf of all those in the IRTA, union or not, teacher or administrator.

Another step for united legal action in defense of our pensions.