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December 16, 2014

AFSCME, other unions sue to overturn Chicago pension cuts

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. Click here to read a copy of the complaint.