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Union Leaders Push for Pension Compromise

Story by Sean Powers, with additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio

Illinois union leaders are asking political leaders to negotiate with them before approving a plan to overhaul the state's pension systems. They made their plea on Monday in a teleconference with reporters.

Lawmakers are scheduled to gather in Springfield on Friday, Aug. 17 to consider options for fixing Illinois' underfunded pension system. It is a task that could include shifting pension costs for public school teachers from the state to school districts.

Sean Smoot, with an association of Illinois police officers, said the pension proposals currently under consideration are unconstitutional and will not solve the funding problem.

"Let me be clear: the path they have chosen, they have chosen alone, without meaningful input  from retired or working employees," Smoot said.

Christine Boardman, the president of a union representing government workers, said it is legislative leaders who have walked away from discussions.

"It is not the workers, it is not the people who actually add value to the state every single day," Boardman said.

In a conference call with reporters, Boardman and other labor leaders outlined what they'd like to see in pension legislation.

They want tax law changed to close what they call "loopholes" benefitting corporations. They want to make sure current retirees are not affected by the changes. And they say state funding of retirement benefits should be automatic and guaranteed.

Cinda Klickna is the president of one of Illinois' two big teacher unions.

"The pension crisis was caused by past governors and legislatures that failed the people of our state," Klickna said.

Klickna said union members have been paying for their retirement out of every paycheck, and should not have to pay for past decisions to underfund pensions.

“For decades, our members have made their payments to the retirement system, while the state has not," Klickna said. "Our members are asking, ‘What guarantee will the legislature make going forward, so that we protect tax payers, and pension system participants against a repeat of the bad  behavior that caused the pension crisis.’”

Consistent underfunding over the years is one of the main reasons the pension system is  roughly $85 billion short of what it needs to meet future obligations.

With Illinois talking about pension cuts, more than 4,500 state employees have retired in the past fiscal year. Roughly the same number of University employees also retired. That’s the highest in at least five years.

Categories: Economics, Politics