Fighting for my pension with a pole in my head.

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Pole in my head on the way to Brooklyn with Anne at the South Bend travel plaza. on I-80.

Anne and I are headed for Brooklyn. We are having Thanksgiving with some of our family. We want no part of airports, so we are driving with a stop in Cleveland. A lovely Holiday Inn near the airport with a priceline.com discount.

We will be back on Sunday in time for Monday’s Pension Emergency Day called by the We Are One coalition of state public employee unions. 

This includes both the IEA and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the IFT.

A week ago we were notified by both the IEA leadership in Springfield and We Are One that there would be actions at selected legislators.

Great! For those of us in S.O.R.E, that is our style. We are self-described hell-raisers.

No need to plan an action on our own. We would join with our brothers and sisters at the targeted offices. Just tell us which ones.

We heard nothing.

And when I asked, it was suggested on Friday that there would be nothing in the Chicago north area. With many school districts out for Thanksgiving week and many of our retired members heading somewhere to be with family, we decided to take action into our own hands. We have an appointment with Representative Laura Fine at her district office in Glenview on Monday morning.

Then today came word from the North Suburban Teachers Union local 1274 of the IFT. There WOULD be actions at local legislators’ district offices in the Chicago north area.

On Monday, December 2nd, the IFT and our partners in the We-Are-One labor coalition will be holding rallies at legislative offices across the state to show our opposition to the pension theft legislation being proposed by the leaders of the General Assembly. Those leaders have called their members for a special session on December 3rd to present legislation that would dramatically reduce the pension benefit for all public workers – active and retired. They will be putting tremendous pressure on their members to vote for this pension theft bill. We need to counter that pressure with our own show of force in opposition to the proposed bill.

Our local is organizing rallies at the offices of four area legislators:

Senator Daniel Biss, 3706 Dempster St., Skokie.
Senator Ira Silverstein, 2951 W. Devon Ave., Chicago
Representative Laura Fine, 1812 Waukegan Rd., Glenview
Representative Robyn Gabel, 820 Davis St., Evanston

The rallies will be held after school, from 4:00 to 5:00 PM on Monday, December 2nd.

Please click here to sign up for the location that you would like to attend.

There will be a local leader assigned to each of those sites to act as a spokesperson and to organize the groups. They will have signs for you to carry. Your main role will be to participate in a show of force.

Friends and family are encouraged to attend – please feel free to forward this email to any potential supporter.

We will need a strong showing at these rallies to fight the most serious threat to our pensions to date.

Sign up here to attend a pension-saving rally on Monday, December 2nd!

Are IEA and IFT in the same coalition? Okay. So inter-We Are One communications are a little disorganized. No big deal. It’s a good thing those of us at street level talk to one another.

I knew I was right a dozen or so years ago when I voted (but lost) to merge the two unions. Not that it would guarantee any tighter organization.

Anyway. Pick one. Go there.

To be clear. You can do morning with Fine if you are a SORE MEMBER ONLY the after-school IFT rallies. Or both.

Although some days it feels like I have a pole in my head.

There is nothing shared about this sacrifice.

SB2404 is deader than Walter White in the final episode of Breaking Bad.

We are coming down to another time of crunch when it comes to Illinois pensions.

There are likely two possibilities.

The Gang of Ten will reach some agreement and if, as Representative Elaine Nekritz suggests, it calls for reducing cost of living increases to retired state workers, then the unions will go to court intent on proving that it is a violation of the Illinois Constitution’s pension protection clause.

The other possibility is that nothing will happen because there are not enough Republican votes to give Democrats cover.

Two things are guaranteed not to happen in this veto session.

There will be no attempt by the politicians of either party to address the real problem of revenue. That will have to wait until the progressive forces in the state get half a million signatures on petitions calling for a graduated income tax. Perhaps that will provide the spine required for legislators to do the right thing and put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

The other thing that will not happen is that the legislature will pass the Cullerton/We Are One backed SB2404. That bill calls for a two-year freeze on cost of living increases for state employees.

The We Are One coalition of state public employee unions is still trying to revive this corpse.

But it is deader than Walter White in the final episode of Breaking Bad.

Only they can explain why they continue to push it, as Michael T. Carrigan – president of the Illinois AFL-CIO and writing on behalf of the We Are One coalition – did in the Sun-Times yesterday.

Some ask me, if is deader than the star of the Zombie Returns, why do I still talk about it?

Fair question.

There are two really bad things about our union leaders putting SB2404 out there, even if it goes nowhere. Which is where it is going.

One is that is validates the theory of shared sacrifice. That is, we give a little and they give a little.

Only we have already given more than our share. Our pension is owed millions of dollars. The state already has a $100 billion unfunded pension liability.

We paid. They didn’t.

The other bad thing is that they are slippin’ and slidin’ on the issue of the pension protection clause of the constitution.

They challenge those of us who opposed and oppose SB2404 by saying we are playing roulette with the Supreme Court. Better to take our chances with the legislature than the courts.

But by making that argument, they surrender our constitutional authority.

And then the politicians will be back again and again for more.

Will IEA and We Are One bargain or fall in line on a gubernatorial endorsement?

Kwame Raoul

State Senator Kwame Raoul.

There has been a lot of speculation about whether Senator Kwame Raoul will throw it in to the Democratic Party gubernatorial primary against Bill Daley and Squeezy.

Rich Miller thinks Raoul could win it.  Polling shows neither Daley or Quinn has a lock.

Raoul is a popular politician with powerful support in Chicago’s Black community.

Daley? Not so much. He’s never run for anything other than a spot on a bank’s board of directors.

Quinn is often remembered by Chicago’s Black voters as the guy who was fired by Mayor Harold Washington.

Miller writes that Raoul is seeking the endorsement of the members of the We Are One coalition which is made up of the states public employee unions, including my IEA.

MIller thinks this is a problem for Raoul. He chairs the Gang of Ten pension committee.  A trial balloon of suggested pension changes was leaked last week which included a reduction in COLA payments.

But I say it is a bigger problem for the We Are One coalition.

If the leaked proposals end up in a final bill, it will – or should be – opposed by We Are One.

But We Are One was silent about the leaked proposals.

Would Raoul get the endorsement of the state’s public employee unions even if he backed a bill calling for pension cuts?

Will Daley or Squeezy get their endorsement?

Miller offers that there isn’t much of a chance for Raoul without the unions’ endorsement.

This is the perfect opportunity for the state’s union leaders to do something they should be good at: Bargaining!

As of now, none of the current candidates for governor support any pension fix that includes increasing revenue.

All call for cuts in benefits.

Does Raoul want our endorsement?

The answer We Are One should give is: What do we get?

I fear that the answer will be the typical one: What do you want?

Unity in defense of our pensions.

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Dan Montgomery, President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and Jim Reed, Government Relations of the Illinois Education Association. Photo: Fred Klonsky

Be sure to read Bob Lyons’ report in the previous post on the latest developments with the Illinois legislative Gang of Ten.

Along with our teacher representatives on the board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System, Bob Lyons is the reliable sentry at the gate. He is sharp as a tack when it comes to sizing up the politics of the pension debate.

The last paragraph of Bob’s report is important.

Read it twice.

The unknown is where will they be when they come out with a proposal.  While I do not know if it could be worse than Madigan’s SB1, I would expect that it will take more from us than SB2404.  Than the question will be if the General Assembly will favor the plan.

A year ago we were all united in defense of our three principles:

  1. Any change to our pensions must be constitutional.
  2. Any change to our pensions must bring stability to the system.
  3. Any change must be fair to the members of the pension system.

Many members of the retirement system came to believe that the compromise worked out between the We Are One coalition of the state’s public employee unions and Senate President John Cullerton did not adhere to the three principles.

Some believe it did not adhere to any of them.

Myself, Glen Brown, John Dillon, Ken Previti and others wrote endlessly in opposition to SB2404.

The Illinois Retired Teachers Association formally opposed SB2404 and threatened court action if either SB1 or Sb2404 were passed by the General Assembly.

When I attended the first Gang of Ten meeting in Chicago, the opposition of the rank-and-file to SB2404 was noted by both Committee members and by those who testified on behalf of the We Are One coalition.

The We Are One coalition leadership has led us to believe that SB2404 was the ceiling in terms of what they were willing to give.

Bob says that there will be a push by some to get something that takes more than SB2404.

The unknown is where will they be when they come out with a proposal.  While I do not know if it could be worse than Madigan’s SB1, I would expect that it will take more from us than SB2404.  Than the question will be if the General Assembly will favor the plan.

Bob. There is another question.

Will our leaders, those in the We Are One coalition, stand against any further concessions?

With the stalemate on SB1 and SB2404 the slate is wiped clean.

Harsh words said between IRTA and IEA and others should be put behind us.

What Bob says about politics in Springfield is true. But it is also true about the disagreements among us.

I would be dismayed by these events, but for the fact that I can take heart that my pension is still safe.

Now there must be unity going forward in defense of our pensions, the promises and the law.

We Are One. “No more concessions.”

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Mike Carrigan, President of the Illinois AFL-CIO says that their will be no more concessions by the state’s public employee unions. In meetings with Senate Democrats, the We Are One coalition of public employee unions bargained SB2404.

SB2404 is no more. It was killed by The Madman and his Republicrat Guard in the House.

Many rank-and-file union members (including this one) believed that SB2404 failed to live up to the promise made by union leaders that they would not agree to anything that was not constitutional, failed to bring stability to the pension system and was not fair to members.

In Carrigan’s statement, he described SB2404 as a “tremendous concession on the part of our public sector members.”

Indeed.

It now appears that if the joint legislative committee produces a pension bill that diminishes pension benefits and if that bill is signed by the governor, all public employee unions and organizations representing retired teachers will be headed to court.

The Madman blinks.

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There will be no votes taken on any pension bill tomorrow.

Let’s take a second and review what happened leading up to today.

In the General Assembly session that ended the end of May, nothing happened.

Madigan ordered his House to pass SB1, a pension bomb so punitive to state employees that it would make Alcatraz look like an all-inclusive resort.

Meanwhile We Are One, the coalition of public employee unions, worked out a deal with Senate President Cullerton. It still put the total burden of the continuing pension liability on the employees. However, Cullerton thought a coersive choice between a cost of living adjustment and access to health insurance would survive a legal challenge. And the union leadership was grasping at straws to prevent the Madman’s SB1.

The Madman wouldn’t even think of allowing a vote on SB2404. And Cullerton’s Senate said no way to SB1.

Stalemate.

After the GA adjourned on May 31st, Governor Squeezy asked the Madman and Cullerton for lunch. But the Madman says he doesn’t carry a cell phone, so he didn’t get the call. Plus, he was busy trying to avoid ABC channel 7’s Chuck Goudie who was chasing him with a camera crew.

The Madman finally agreed to have lunch with Cullerton and Squeezy. But for dessert he served Cullerton a big slice of screw you.  The Madman  was going to amend the We Are One approved SB2404 so that it looked exactly like SB1.

That was supposed to happen tomorrow when Squeezy called the General Assembly back in session.

That brings us up to date.

This morning The Madman blinked.

There will be no pension vote tomorrow.

Reports say that The Madman has “warmed” to the idea of a joint legislative committee. That is something he has said no to up until now

I suggested yesterday that his insistence on SB1 was doing his daughter no good in her possible race for Squeezy’s office. I’m suggesting it again.

Here’s what’s next.

The Senate will vote down the House Bill.

It will then go back to the House. In order for it to go to a joint conference committee the House will have to vote something out that is less draconian. But how much less?

There were already doubts about whether the Supreme Court would find SB2404 constitutional.

But there is a long way between the blatant unconstitutionality of SB1 and what the Senate was willing to do.

And the House has to pass something that gets by The Madman’s Republican (actually Democratic) Guard headed by Elaine Nekritz.

I’m still betting on no deal.

Question to the IEA Board of Directors this morning: Did you know about cutting off the subsidy to TRIP?

Now that it has been revealed that part of the deal that it appears the We Are One coalition agreed to with Senate President John Cullerton includes an end to any subsidy towards the Teacher Retirement Insurance Program (TRIP), what will the IEA leadership say?

The IEA Board of Directors meets this weekend. The BOD includes Region Chairs from around the state.

Did THEY know?

I assure you that active teachers did not know.

Retirees did not know.

Read Glen Brown‘s post this morning. And mine from last night.

SB2404 is now clearly an unconstitutional bill, cleverly designed to look like a choice for consideration.

But there is no consideration.

The choice is to give up the compounded COLA that we already have and is protected by the pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution in exchange for access to TRIP – but with members paying 100% of the premium and it is not protected.

I ask again.

Did We Are One know that they bargained this?

If they didn’t know, why didn’t they?

And why didn’t we?

Will somebody on the BOD being asking those questions today?

What does We Are One know? When did they know it? Why didn’t they tell us? A shocking development.

The email came from the Illinois Retired Teachers Association announcing the Illinois General Assembly’s adjournment for the weekend.

No action until Monday.

But I noticed a third bullet point I hadn’t see before.

Retired Option 1:

  • The TRS COLA would continue to be 3 percent compounded annually calculated from the member’s currentpension.

  • A staggered automatic two year forfeiture of the member’s COLA after the effective date of the bill.

  • Access to state health insurance with the possibility of paying 100% of the premium.

“100% of the premium?” I emailed Glen and asked. “Is this new to you?”

“Yes,” he emailed back.

What the hell?

So we looked into it. And sure enough.

Senator John Cullerton filed Senate Amendment 002 to Senate Bill 2404 on May 8, 2013.

“…Eligible Tier I employees and eligible Tier I retirees may be required to make contributions toward the cost of coverage under a program of health benefits.The vested and enforceable contractual right to a program of health benefits is NOT offered as, and shall NOT be considered, a pension or retirement benefit under Article XIII, Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution, the Illinois Pension Code, or any subsequent or successor enactment providing pension benefits…” 

[The health care option would have to be written into the Illinois Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/) to be considered a “benefit” protected by the Illinois Constitution. In this way, consideration would create a contractual cause of action for the full enforcement of that expectation – an irrevocable binding contract between the state (legislators) and public employees].

“The Department shall coordinate with each retirement system administering an election in accordance with this amendatory Act of the 98th General Assembly to provide information concerning the impact of the election of health benefits. Each System shall include information prepared by the Department in the required election packet…

“The information in the election packet shall include a notice that states: ‘YOU ARE HEREBY ADVISED THAT THE PROGRAM OF HEALTH BENEFITS OFFERED IS FOR ACCESS TO A GROUP HEALTHCARE PLAN ADMINISTERED BY THE DEPARTMENT, AND YOU MAY BE REQUIRED TO PAY FOR THE FULL COST OF COVERAGE PROVIDED BY THE PLAN, INCLUDING ALL PREMIUM, DEDUCTIBLE, AND COPAY AMOUNT.’” [You are simply making a choice to diminish your constitutional benefits and rights. You will also be paying for your own healthcare]. The aforementioned quotations are from Senate Amendment 002 to Senate Bill 2404, pages 15-16.


“It is safe to say that this amendment was revealed in committee, was discussed by Senate President John Cullerton, and was pushed by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and Civic Federation” –Gary Elmen, president of the IRTA.

Why didn’t we know that all subsidies to TRIP might disappear as a result of the deal over Senate Bill 2404?
Did the state’s union leaders – the members of the We Are One coalition – know this?
When did they know?
Did they know what they had agreed to, but didn’t tell their members?
Or didn’t they know what they had agreed to?
Both are damnable.

The in box. Bad bargaining.

Fred

As a recently retired individual who has ten years before Medicare kicks in, the health insurance/two-year COLA freeze is, for me, a false choice. I long ago quit searching for “fair” in life, but I see little logic in comparing my choices with those of someone who is currently employed. If I had known two years ago what lay ahead, I would not have given up my teaching position. But continuing to work a few more years is not a choice I have now.

Many people view the two-year COLA freeze as a rather benign concession, but, for someone at the beginning of his/her retirement, it is very costly. When I calculated the cost, assuming an average life expectancy, I was astounded. I wish that someone would put these figures out there so that retirees could see exactly what it is they are conceding.

– Kathy Wiersema

Kathy,

I’ve resisted comparing what the We Are One coalition has done to our pensions to collective bargaining.

As I have said, it in no way even resembles collective bargaining.

But you raise an important point in your letter having to do with the issue of consideration.

The leaders have claimed that choice for consideration would likely be found constitutional.

That is why the leaders should have said no.

When our local negotiating team bargained our local’s contract the results were generally strong on salary compared to benefits.

This was a strategic decision on our part, stretching over many negotiations and contracts.

We knew that increases in our base salary were used as a basis for compounding all future salary increases. For the most part we knew our salary could not be taken away. Benefits are a form of compensation. But it is compensation that does not compound over time. It is easier for the board to take back benefits than salary.

What the We Are One coalition agreed to was an exchange of compounded cost of living increases for a problematic access to health care. With no corresponding promise of what that health care would look like.

For retirees like you who have years before they qualify for Medicare, this is a bad deal.

Bad bargaining.

– Fred

The hole in the logic of an argument a truck could drive through. The union leaders who can’t say no.

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This weekend IEA President Cinda Klickna emailed her best argument to IEA Board of Directors and staff for supporting the We Are One/Cullerton pension cutting bill.

What does this bill give us that we don’t currently have?

• Contractual enforceable access to state-provided healthcare: Currently, access to state-provided healthcare is not a constitutional right or a contractual right. In fact, the state could remove it at any time. If SB 2404 becomes law, it moves access to state-provided healthcare to a contractual right. Giving people the option to have access to state-provided healthcare ensures that the state healthcare plan, or a comparable plan, be continued. Many members have mistakenly believed that state-provided retiree healthcare, such as TRIP, is something that the state must provide. Not so.

• Funding guarantee: The state is not constitutionally required to fund the pension systems at any particular amount. Under SB 2404, it will be. More than 15 years ago, IEA was involved in a lawsuit to force the state to pay its portion to the pension systems. The court ruled that the state must honor the pension benefits but the state didn’t have to pay into the systems. Sad, but true. So, what we have put into SB 2404 is language mandating the state pay the systems, and allowing the systems to sue if the state doesn’t pay. Without funding, we jeopardize ever getting our benefits.

What makes a choice concept constitutional?

Giving people a choice and providing them something of value they didn’t have before in exchange for accepting a change in benefits (“consideration”).

Through lengthy conversations and review with our attorneys (both from the IEA and the coalition), we feel the choice concept has the greatest chance of being constitutional. Each choice in SB 2404 contains something one can exchange for something else.

All choices have an overarching consideration of constitutionally protected and enforceable guaranteed funding by the state, and a Pension Stabilization Fund, which adds more money into paying off the unfunded liability of the pension systems.

Of course, this is nonsense. It contains a failure of logic, a hole so big that a truck could drive through. Many members have written and pointed it  out:

How can We Are One, the IEA leaders and lawyers promise an ironclad funding source, funding stabilization and a constitutionally guaranteed health care provision? Their entire argument for bargaining away our original constitutionally protected pension is that they don’t believe the courts will ultimately agree that we have constitutionally protected benefits.

This is an argument that is perfectly circular.

Out of a fear that the courts will rule against our constitutionally protected benefits, we agree to give up those benefits in exchange for constitutionally protected benefits in a deal that costs every member of the pension systems their benefits.

If we don’t come out worse out of this deal, where do Cullerton’s savings to the state come from?

There are no new revenues after all.

That’s our money. It is only our money and nobody else’s. The burden for this revenue crisis falls on the backs of state employees.

Only us.

Who doesn’t believe that if the legislature gets this deal that they won’t be back for more next year? Or the year after.

We are teachers or retired teachers. We have all had a kid who had a parent who couldn’t say no. It did the kid no favor. And it made life miserable for everyone else.

While the issue of constitutionality is important, in the end this is not about what is constitutional or what is not. What is most important is not what counts as consideration or not. Whether four lawyers, or five lawyers or a hundred lawyers say Senate Bill 2404 is constitutional or not.

The problem is that we have union leaders who are afraid to say no.

And the problem is that the inability of our leaders to say no will bring the pension killers back again and again and again.

It doesn’t do anyone a favor. Least of all us.