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Illinois – Coalition Blocks Bill Attacking Pensions

Getting The Job Done
Getting The Job Done | Sean Stillwell (at left) works alongside fellow employees of the Village of Lombard, Ill., public works department. All are members of Local 89 (Council 31). Stillwell was featured in a TV ad run by the We Are One Illinois campaign to protect public pensions. (Photo by Adelstein Liston)

A vast grassroots outpouring in June by the coalition We Are One Illinois — which AFSCME helped to form — blocked a bill that would have forced public employees to pay huge increases in their pension contributions.

AFSCME Council 31 members, along with teachers, police officers and firefighters led the charge against the bill, whose provisions included requiring participants in the state’s public-pension systems to pay up to 17 percent of their salaries into the retirement funds. Those who didn’t want to pay more would have been forced to take a cut in benefits or move into a 401(k)-style retirement plan.

The union coalition deluged legislators with an unprecedented number of calls and e-mails to defend the modest pensions Illinois public employees earn. In June, their hard work paid off. Acknowledging defeat, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D) and House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R) pulled the bill, deciding instead to deliberate further on how to address the state’s underfunded pension system.

The coalition contends that any funding solutions must be constitutional, must lead to the long-term stability of the retirement systems, and must go to the root of the problem: the failure of politicians over decades to make required contributions, even as public employees faithfully paid their share.

Council 31 members also beat back a plan to impose unaffordable new state health-insurance premiums on retired state and university employees. Costs for retirees affected would have typically risen by $4,000 a year.