Quick Hit Progress Illinois Wednesday January 30th, 2013, 7:13pm

Op-Ed: Labor Coalition Disappointed By Madigan's Decision Not To Attend Pension Summit

The following comes from Michael T. Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, on behalf of the We Are One Colaition in response to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's refusal to attend the pension summit to which the coalition recently invited legislative leaders. 

We Are One Illinois regrets that Speaker Madigan has indicated he will not participate in the Pension Summit proposed by our union coalition. Our summit is a demonstration of good faith and commitment to seeking to solve the state’s pension funding problem in a way that is fair and constitutional.

Our coalition has already put forward a plan that addresses the intertwined problems of inadequate revenues and underfunded pensions. It would end the practice of politicians shorting actuarially required payments to the retirement funds; ease state budget pressures by closing wasteful tax loopholes, especially for big corporations; and require active public employees to pay more toward the pensions they earn and rely on. Our plan would provide at least $2.35 billion a year to stabilize the retirement funds, while preventing cuts to retirees who worked hard and played by the rules.

The We Are One Illinois plan has the potential to be a starting point for participatory discussions around a pension-funding solution. Crucially, we believe that pension legislation supported by all parties is the only way to meet constitutional muster and avert costly and time-consuming court battles.

In downgrading Illinois credit last week, Standard and Poor’s warned that unconstitutional pension cuts “risk … legal challenges” that could take “several years” to resolve, delaying “improved funded ratios and budget relief.” Illinois doesn’t have years to waste. The We Are One Illinois coalition of unions remains ready to work constructively on this problem right now.

We have pointed out that the public employees and retirees represented by our unions are helpers and problem-solvers by trade—the teachers, the caregivers, the protectors and those who respond in emergencies. They are committed to being a part of the solution to the pension problem as well, but they can’t do it alone.

We were particularly surprised and disappointed that the Speaker singled out state employees from our coalition—which includes teachers, police, fire fighters, nurses, caregivers and many others—and decried their efforts to maintain decent wages and affordable health care. In terms of comparison to other states, it is true that Illinois state employees are fairly paid—just as are other public employees , and indeed unionized  private sector workers  in our state. Illinois is a relatively high-wage state and all of our citizens are the better for it. Further, when comparing benefits to private-sector workers, it must be noted that nearly 80 percent of Illinois public employees—including teachers, police, fire fighters and university employees—are not eligible for Social Security. Finally, every serious, academic study has shown that public employees are paid less in wages and earn less in total compensation than comparable private-sector workers with similar jobs and educational attainment.

On the pension issue, the Speaker is correct to recall a series of discussions involving the union coalition, legislative leaders and the governor nearly one year ago. We were disappointed when those discussions were abruptly halted by the elected officials last spring, and despite our invitations throughout the ensuing months, never resumed. Our Feb. 11 Pension Summit is an opportunity to get back to work.

The people of Illinois want and deserve leaders who work together to solve problems. The public employees and retirees who serve the people need and depend on the modest pensions they earn and pay into from every check. A pension-funding solution that is constitutional, sustainable and fair requires openness and dialogue from all parties.

 

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