In this bulletin:
Pension Legal Venue at Issue – At the end of January AFSCME and our partners in the We Are One Illinois coalition filed suit in state court challenging the constitutionality of the new law (Public Act 98-0599) that slashes the pension benefits of participants in SERS, SURS and TRS. Other unions in the We Are One coalition include: IEA, IFT, FOP, AFFI, PBPA, SEIU, INA, and LIUNA. The suit is filed on behalf of all active employees and retirees in all three affected systems, with some 25 named plaintiffs, including eight AFSCME members.
The We Are One Illinois suit was filed in Sangamon County, but the case may not be heard there. Three other lawsuits have been filed – two only on behalf of retirees (also filed in Sangamon County) and one on behalf of active and retired school employees (filed in Cook County).
The attorney general, who represents the defendants in the suit, has now filed a motion with the Illinois Supreme Court seeking to consolidate all four lawsuits in Cook County. We Are One has filed a response objecting to the AG’s motion, arguing that this vitally important legal challenge should remain in Sangamon County. We Are One attorneys maintain that Sangamon County is more centrally located for the plaintiffs who are from all across Illinois, that it is the headquarters of two of the three relevant retirement systems, that it has a large concentration of affected employees and retirees, and that three of the four suits were filed in Sangamon County court.
Primary Election on March 18 – More than 500 delegates from AFSCME locals across the state braved snow and ice to travel to Springfield on February 1 for the union’s PEOPLE Legislative and Endorsement Conference. In addition to setting the legislative agenda for the upcoming session, delegates voted on endorsements in federal and statewide primary contests.
AFSCME endorsements are based on incumbents’ voting records on issues of importance to union members or, in the case of non-incumbents, on interviews and/or responses to a union questionnaire.
Even if a candidate has a good voting record or questionnaire, however, AFSCME generally does not make an endorsement if he or she does not have a contested election. The delegates to the PEOPLE Conference made two exceptions this year. They voted to endorse Mike Frerichs in the Democratic primary for state treasurer and Judy Baar Topinka in the Republican primary for comptroller because both of these candidates have played leadership roles in the epic battle to defend public employee pensions.
No endorsement was made in either primary in the race for governor or attorney general. However, the delegates did vote overwhelmingly to commit the union to doing everything possible to defeat Bruce Rauner, a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and to empower the Executive Committee to endorse any of the other candidates running against Rauner in the Republican primary.
Rauner’s a billionaire hedge fund investor whose entire campaign is based on attacking public employees. He wants to eliminate public employee pensions, drive down public employee wages, and undermine public employees’ right to union representation. Rauner wants to see Illinois move in the direction of Wisconsin, which has completely eliminated public employee collective bargaining rights.
Because most state legislative candidates did not have primary opposition, AFSCME made only a handful of endorsements in state House or Senate races in this primary election cycle. Endorsements in legislative races are made by the PEOPLE Executive Committee based on recommendations from regional committees made up of local union representatives who review voting records and conduct in-person candidate interviews.
Remember to vote on Tuesday, March 18. If you’re not registered, click here for information on how to register to vote.
Battling for Back Pay – AFSCME members in five state agencies – DHS, DOC, DJJ, DPH and DNR – still have not received all of the back pay they are owed as a result of raises withheld in fiscal years 2011/2012. A circuit court judge has ruled the money should be paid, but his order has been stayed at the request of the attorney general, who is appealing the ruling.
Given the slow pace of the legal proceedings, the union’s not waiting for the courts. AFSCME has worked with legislators to get a special supplemental appropriation bill in the full amount owed ($112 million) introduced in both houses of the General Assembly – HB 3764/SB 2603.
Now we’ve got to turn up the heat on our legislators to make sure they actively support this back pay appropriation. As a new legislative session gets underway, it’s critical that we remind every legislator that basic fairness demands that every employee is paid the money they’re owed. You can click here to see a list of legislators who’ve already signed on to sponsor the supplemental appropriation. If your legislators aren’t on the list, call them immediately and urge them to become co-sponsors – tell them you want them to stand up and speak out in support of fairness for all state employees.
Fixing Illinois’ Revenue Woes – For years, AFSCME members have seen the devastation caused by broken budgets. Whether it’s cutting pension benefits, closing state facilities, or operating without adequate staff, the story is always the same: State government doesn’t have enough revenues to meet all its obligations.
The reason for that is simple: Illinois has what’s called a “structural deficit” – its tax structure cannot raise enough revenues to meet the needs of its citizens. Illinois’ tax system sets a flat income tax rate across the board, meaning a Fortune 500 CEO has the same tax rate as someone making $30,000 a year.
The problem could get a lot worse. The temporary income tax increase is set to expire at the end of 2014, costing the state some $5 billion a year and threatening unthinkable further cuts to education, public safety, human services and jobs.
This is why AFSCME has thrown its full support behind A Better Illinois, a coalition of more than 100 organizations working to allow the state to set higher income tax rates for those with higher incomes, and lower rates for the middle class and small businesses.
That change requires an amendment to the state constitution. In order for citizens to get to vote on the proposed amendment in November, legislators must vote to put it on the ballot by May – time is short, and it’s going to take the involvement of every AFSCME member to make it happen. You can help by circulating a petition in support of the fair tax amendment.
Illinois citizens want the right to make this decision themselves. A statewide poll found that 92 percent of voters agree that “the tax system in Illinois is broken and needs to be fixed,” 82 percent say that “too often, rich people avoid paying their fair of taxes” and 77 percent support an amendment to allow a fair tax in Illinois.
Another Round in Pension Fight – The ink had barely dried on the new law slashing the pension benefits of SERS, SURS and TRS participants when Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched his campaign to get the General Assembly to pass a similar measure cutting the pensions of City of Chicago employees – AFSCME members in a variety of City departments, as well as police officers, firefighters, and public school teachers and support staff.
Unions in the We Are One coalition immediately began organizing to fight back and will kick off their efforts with Pension Protection Day at the State Capitol on Wednesday, February 19. City of Chicago union members will be travelling to Springfield for a rally at 1 p.m. in the Capitol Rotunda, followed by direct lobbying of legislators before and after.
State of Illinois AFSCME members are encouraged to join in this day of action. No matter where you work, it’s vitally important to stand up against every effort to slash public employee pension benefits. The more legislators believe they can get away with such outright pension theft in blatant disregard of the constitution without facing any consequences, the more emboldened they will be to keep on cutting.
Message via Henry Bayer, AFSCME Council 31