Here in Illinois we have been fighting the battle to protect promised public employee pensions for many years.
In 2015 we won a major victory when the state Supreme Court upheld the pension protection language in the state Constitution.
Those of us who organized, blogged and went to Springfield often found us deserted by our own state union leadership as they looked to cut a deal that would cut us out.
It was really good this week to see teachers in Kentucky by the thousands rallying at the state capital in defense of their pensions.
“More than 20 Kentucky counties had schools close Friday after the state Legislature approved changes to their pension on [March 30]. Educators, who are furious over the pension issue, called out of work sick or requested substitutes in protest.
“The bill, which overhauls the state’s pension, passed mostly on party lines and heads to Gov. Matt Bevin, who supports reforming the system. State leaders say it’s critical to fix the pension crisis, which ranks as one of the worst in the US.
“Kentucky teachers have opposed changes to their pension, which was inSenate Bill 1 that proposed reducing benefits. But in a surprise move, elements of Senate Bill 1 were tucked into another bill, Senate Bill 151, which had been about sewage services, reported several CNN affiliates in Kentucky. And the new, nearly 300-page Senate Bill 151 passed both the state House and Senate on Thursday to the chagrin of teachers and retirees who crammed into the Capitol. ‘Just vote no!’ they chanted Thursday. ‘Vote them out!’
“The Kentucky Education Association, which represents teachers and other education professionals, slammed the maneuver as a ‘classic legislative bait and switch…’
“A summary of the bill has the following, according to CNN affiliate WKYT…
“Kentucky Republicans tweeted a summary of the bill. Republican lawmakers attempted to allay concerns, saying that the bill is a compromise to save the state’s pension… The bill passed the House in a 49-46 vote and the Senate by 22-15, according to CNN affiliate WLKY.There are 10 veto days following the passage of the bill for Bevin to take action on the legislation. Bevin, a Republican praised the lawmakers who supported the bill for not ‘kicking the pension problem down the road…’
“Inspired by the West Virginia strike, in which teachers went on strike and won concessions, teachers are similarly organizing and publicly pressuring their state lawmakers in states including Oklahoma and Arizona.”
For the full report by CNN’s Amir Vera, Marlena Baldacci and Dave Alsup, click here.
Glen adds his own commentary:
In Kentucky, the legal basis for protection of public pension rights under state laws is contractual, like most other states. Kentucky’s pension accruals are protected, but past only and not the future. In Illinois, accruals are protected past and future; the legal basis that safeguards pension accruals is the Constitution of the State of Illinois. Two other states—New York and Alaska—are protected past and future. Four other states’ pension accruals—Arizona, Michigan, Louisiana and Hawaii—are protected past only.
The rolling national teacher revolt has addressed many school funding issues. In West Virginia it was about teacher pay. In Oklahoma it is about class size, classroom support and general education funding. In Kentucky it is about pensions.
For years, those of us fighting to defend promised pensions in Illinois warned that the pension attack was coming to your state. Some listened. Some didn’t.
I can recall on more than one occasion when several of us, including a retired activist buddy who had left Illinois for retirement in Florida, was told dismissively by national organizers that the pension fight was too local and provincial to Illinois to be included in their national education conference. There was no room for even one panel.
Now Kentucky teachers are shouting.
Can you hear us yet?