Union coalition announces pension reform framework
The We Are One Illinois union coalition, of which AFSCME is a member, held a press conference on Aug. 13 to reemphasize labor's opposition to the passage of HB 1447 which would slash the pension benefits of state employees and retirees. The House is expected to vote on the measure when the General Assembly comes into special session on Friday, Aug. 17.
The coalition put forth an alternative framework that reiterates labor's position that employees will do more to help address the pension crisis, but will not bear the whole burden, as HB 1447 and similar bills attempt to make them do.
"Unions representing teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees are willing to help resolve the Illinois pension crisis in exchange for a guarantee that state politicians will never again be allowed to repeat the irresponsible acts that caused the crisis," said the coalition's news release.
The Coalition called on lawmakers to reject all pending pension legislation, including House Bill 1447, which would violate the state constitution, slashing the cost of living adjustment, or COLA, that protects retirees from inflation-effectively forcing them to bear the burden of the state's pension debt.
Had the bill's sharply diminished COLA been in place over the past 25 years, a public employee who retired in 1987 would have lost 20 percent of the value of their pension to inflation; current law has enabled retirees to retain all but 2 percent of that real-dollar value.
The coalition's alternative framework includes the following:
- A guarantee that the state will pay its portion as required. That hasn't happened for decades, as legislatures have diverted money to other programs.
- A true look at revenue by closing loopholes for big corporations that hurt taxpayers of Illinois. Closing loopholes such as those giving special treatment to the offshore profits of oil companies and foreign dividends of large corporations could generate nearly $900 million a year. This annual amount could be dedicated to the retirement systems and yield more than $80 billion by 2045.
- With a guarantee that the state would pay its portion, current employees who are reliant on the pension systems for their retirement security would help address the crisis by paying a little more, even though they have contributed their portion over the years.
- Current retirees would not be impacted in any way by changes to the pension regimen.
"The employees didn't cause the crisis, but we're going on record today to say our members are willing to help fix it if the state will guarantee that the politicians will never again divert our pension money to other expenses," said Coalition spokesperson Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.