Real resistance.


Later this month a group of old guys will get together for a celebratory lunch.

We celebrated last May as well.

What is there to celebrate about these days?

The value of real resistance.

Two years ago this month, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the legal and moral obligation of the state of Illinois was to adhere to the explicit language of the law when it comes to state worker pensions.

Our small group had been speaking, blogging and organizing for years against Democratic and Republican politicians, powerful corporate interests, and struggling with our own state union leadership. Our own unions leaders were quite ready to throw retirees under the wheels of any heavy vehicle driving by when it came to protecting our pensions.

We were not the only ones saying no. But we were few.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever does,” said Margaret Mead.

The leadership of the Illinois Education Association cancelled our Lobby Day scheduled for this day in 2012.

Park Ridge Education Association local members were mystified. It was like our union was quitting and running right in the thick of a battle.


So we spent our own money for a bus , filled it with teachers, printed up some t-shirts, paid  for substitutes and wrote our lesson plans and went to Springfield in spite of the fact that our state union leaders told us not to.

Of course, we had no help from the IEA.

We collared legislators and tried to talk to Governor Quinn.

img_2415He wouldn’t see us.

No matter.

Because he sold us out on pensions, he’s not the governor any more.

The legislators, some who now aspire for higher office, wouldn’t listen and voted against us.

But in the end, we won.

And that is what is worth remembering and celebrating this month.

If you are a teacher pension activist you will not be too busy at the NEA Leadership meeting in Orlando.


NEA pension activists will have plenty of time to visit Harry Potter World if they are heading for the Leadership Conference in Orlando in February.

I don’t love meetings, but I go.

When a labor or education group sends me a notice, I scan down the list of workshops or breakout sessions to check if there is anything about our pension fight.

I am usually disappointed, but not surprised, to find nothing. Ageism is a pervasive thing.

I left IEA Retired because I don’t think they fight for retired members.

I still get their email. I received the notice for their Leadership Summit in Orlando in February.

Three days at the Hyatt Regency.

Over a span of three days there is one session on the pension fight.

On the second day.

2:15 PM – 3:45 PM ORG338 ORG All Attacks on Our Pension Plans Using Bogus Paid-For “Research” – Whose Behind It and How to Counter It In this session, participants will learn ways to counter the groundswell of incorrect information about the viability of our pension plans which are being assailed by bogus paid-for “research.”

Countering incorrect information is certainly important. I can think of a couple other topics for pension activists.

If you are an NEA Retired member heading for Orlando you will have plenty of time for Harry Potter’s World at Universal. Bring the grandkids. I went with mine and it was fun.

We Are One Illinois’ statement on the “consideration model”.

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The following points represent the We Are One Illinois Coalition’s position on a pension model currently receiving attention that is commonly referred to as the “consideration model.”

The hundreds of thousands of workers (teachers, firefighters, nurses, police and other public employees) represented by We Are One Illinois oppose this purported “consideration model” because it fails the test for good pension law:

• It is not constitutional;

• It is unfair in its outcome;

• It will not solve Illinois’s long-term pension funding obligations; and

• It will exacerbate the challenges those obligations pose by kicking down the road to a future day implementation of a lawful funding solution.

The following core points explain the why this plan is not constitutional. Additional legal analysis of its unconstitutionality is set forth in this memo.

 • This supposed “consideration model” violates the Illinois Constitution.

The Illinois Supreme Court has now made it clear in two cases (the state “SB1” case and theCity of Chicago case) that unilateral changes to diminish the pension benefits belonging to any member of a retirement system are unconstitutional.

The model commonly referred to as “the consideration model” also fails the constitutional test because it offers pension system members (regardless of Tier I or Tier II) a choice between two versions of diminished benefits. There in fact is NO CONSIDERATION in the legal sense. A public employee would be forced to choose between two options, each of which illegally strips away pension benefits. This is a construction that the Supreme Court has expressly ruled violates the Illinois Constitution Pension Protection clause.

Consideration requires some countervailing substantial new benefit that the pension holder must be able to accept or decline. This suggested new model offers no such thing; in fact, it offers a choice between reduction of two already protected pension benefits. Therefore, it is unlawful.

• This supposed “consideration model” will not survive a court challenge and therefore will only worsen Illinois’ fiscal position.

If passed into law, such a plan will be swiftly challenged in court. When the Illinois Supreme Court rules—yet again—that diminishment of pension benefits is illegal, the state’s pension systems will surely be further underfunded and the pension payments the state must pay will be larger. Simply put, our problems will only be harder to solve. A vote for such a plan is a vote to kick the can down the road, a vote to not solve Illinois’s fiscal challenges.

The We Are One Illinois coalition strongly urges all legislators to abandon pursuit of illegal pension benefit diminishments and work instead on lawful, rational and fair approaches to funding Illinois pension systems.


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.