December 13, 2018

Unions oppose latest attack on pensions

When outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave a Dec. 12 speech calling for a constitutional amendment to wipe out the state's pension protection clause—a move the mayor thinks would allow politicians to reduce city and state pension debt by slashing benefits instead of paying what's owed—the Illinois labor movement was quick with a unified response.

Speaking on behalf of AFSCME and every other union in the federation, Illinois AFL-CIO President Mike Carrigan and Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter immediately issued a joint statement that strongly stood up for public service workers, retirees, and the integrity of the state's highest law.

"Too many politicians, including Mayor Emanuel himself, have wasted years pushing extreme, immoral and illegal schemes to slash pension benefits instead of working together to craft fair, sustainable and constitutional funding solutions," the union leaders said.

"In Chicago and throughout Illinois, teachers, fire fighters, nurses, caregivers and other public service workers earn a modest pension and pay toward it from every check. Their pension is their life savings, and since most public employees aren't eligible for Social Security, it is their main source of income in retirement. Reducing that already modest benefit—now just about $35,000 a year on average—is both unfair and unconstitutional.

"Those pushing to repeal the Illinois Constitution's pension clause ignore the real problem, which is not the cost of benefits but the decades-long habitual failure of politicians to pay the employer's share.

"They also ignore the clear, strong rulings of the Illinois Supreme Court, which have reinforced both the plain language of the pension clause and the sanctity of the contracts clause, which protect these obligations. These unanimous decisions have forcefully made clear that any attempt to slash the modest benefits promised to employees already in a pension system would violate both Illinois and federal law.

"Real solutions are achievable, and we remain committed to working together with anyone of good faith to identify and implement them."

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