afscme -logoVote for pension advocates – Ballots for the SERS Board of Trustees election are being mailed out this week and should be in your mailbox early next week. AFSCME is recommending three strong pension advocates for positions on the board: Cameron Watson, David Morris and Pat Ousley. All three are outspoken supporters of preserving the pension benefits that were earned and promised.

At a time when public employee pensions are under unrelenting assault from politicians of every political stripe, state employees need to make sure their voices are heard on the SERS board. Thanks in large measure to the initiative of AFSCME members currently on the board, as well as the support of Board Chair Judy Baar-Topinka, the SERS was the only pension system that adopted a strong position urging that implementation of SB 1 be stayed until the courts have ruled on its constitutionality.

Cameron, Pat and David will ensure the continuation of that kind of assertive advocacy. You can vote for three candidates in this election. Be sure to mail your ballot back right away.

Retirement insecurity – The assault on public employee pensions has now reached epidemic proportions. While it’s happening all across the country, Illinois has undoubtedly been the worst hit, primarily because the pension funding shortfall is most acute here. First it was the legislation – vigorously opposed by AFSCME – that created Tier 2 with its dramatically lower benefit structure for all employees hired after January 1, 2011. But that wasn’t good enough for the corporate elite who are out to completely destroy defined benefit pension plans. Three years ago, they launched their “Illinois Is Broke” campaign to slash the pension benefits of current employees and retirees.

AFSCME and other unions fought back with the formation of the We Are One Illinois coalition, which successfully fought off all pension-slashing bills for over two years – until every political leader in the state united to push through SB 1 last year, cutting the benefits of state employees, state university employees, downstate teachers (and state legislators).

AFSCME and our partners in the We Are One Illinois coalition are now challenging the constitutionality of that law. The case is currently before Judge John Belz in Sangamon County Circuit Court. The coalition has filed its initial complaint and the State, represented by Attorney General Lisa Madigan, has until May 15 to file its response.

Back Pay Brigades – There are a lot of “hot button” issues before the Illinois General Assembly as it moves into the final month of the spring legislative session. AFSCME local union leaders are determined to make sure that back pay owed to thousands of state employees is among the hottest.

Beginning this week, “Back Pay Brigades” – teams from every AFSCME local whose members are owed back wages – will be at the Capitol every day of the legislative session to lobby legislators and keep the issue of pay justice front and center on their agenda.

You can back up your local union leadership by keeping phone calls going in to the offices of your state senator and state representative. Tell them how much money you are owed and urge them to tell their legislative leaders to pass the supplemental appropriation (HB 3764/SB 2603) needed to fund the back pay. You can call the AFSCME hotline at (888) 912-5959 to be connected to your legislators (call once for your representative and once for your senator), use our click-to-call tool, or you can click here to look up your legislators’ phone numbers.

At the same time that AFSCME is battling for back pay in the General Assembly, Council 31 is continuing to pursue the fight for pay justice in the courts as well. After the Circuit Court ruled that the back wages owed must be paid, the Quinn administration agreed to forgo any appeal and let that decision stand. However, Attorney General Lisa Madigan insisted that she would appeal the case regardless of the governor’s stance.

That appeal is currently pending before the First District Illinois Appellate Court. The Union filed our main brief on February 28. Several other unions have filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of AFSCME’s position, including the Chicago Federation of Labor, Chicago Firefighters Local 2, Chicago Teachers Union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7, the Illinois Nurses Association, the Illinois Education Association and the Police Benevolent and Protective Association.

The State’s final brief was due on April 4. On that day, the Attorney General asked the court for a 28-day extension of time to file the brief. AFSCME attorneys opposed the motion, but the court granted the extension. The State’s final brief is now due on May 2 and the union’s final brief will be due on May 16. After that the court will schedule oral arguments.

Extend the income tax to keep Illinois working – Every state employee has a big stake in the battle now raging in Springfield over whether to extend the current state income tax rate – or to cut it back to its previous level. The facts are indisputable: Even with the tax rate now in place, Illinois barely has enough money to provide the basic services that citizens rely on. That’s why state prisons, veterans’ homes and other vital programs are already severely understaffed.

But those serious problems will become critical, even dangerous, problems if the state income tax is rolled back, rather than being allowed to remain at its current level. Unless legislators vote in the coming weeks to extend the income tax rates now in place, they will be reduced on January 1, resulting in a $2.4 billion budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year. That could mean thousands of layoffs in state government, as well as facility closures. And that kind of giant budget hole will make it that much more difficult to pass the supplemental appropriation needed to pay back wages.

Urge your state legislators to keep the current income tax rates in place to prevent massive cuts to jobs and vital services.

The best solution to Illinois’ chronic underfunding is for our state to join the 34 other states that have a tax structure that allows for higher tax rates on those with high incomes and lower rates for middle and lower-income taxpayers. Unfortunately, the Illinois constitution bars such a rate structure, requiring a “flat tax” instead. That’s why AFSCME has been working with our allies in A Better Illinois to press for a voter referendum on a constitutional amendment to allow for such a “Fair Tax” plan. But there can’t be a referendum unless state legislators vote by 3/5 majority to put the question on the November ballot. That vote has to come this week, per constitutional requirement, but some legislators are refusing to let the people decide. Unless they support the referendum, voters won’t be able to make that choice in November.

Gubernatorial election – More than 500 local union delegates to the AFSCME PEOPLE Conference in January voted unanimously to do everything possible to defeat Bruce Rauner in his campaign to become the next governor of Illinois. That resolution was based on Rauner’s unrelenting animosity toward public employees and their right to union representation. Rauner has declared that public employee unions are “corrupt” and “immoral” and should not be allowed to participate in the political process, even as he contributes millions from his vast fortune to his own political campaign. Rauner has made very clear that, if elected, he will do everything possible to weaken AFSCME and other public employee unions in our state.

While AFSCME local union delegates will not come together to decide whether to make an endorsement in the General Election contest for governor until the PEOPLE conference in September, there is a great deal that union members can do right now to make sure that every voter is aware of Rauner’s real agenda – driving down wages and weakening unions. You can click here and here for two flyers about Rauner’s record that can be downloaded and distributed to your friends, family and coworkers.

All of organized labor came together in the primary election to alert union members to Rauner’s real agenda – and union voter turnout held down Rauner’s margin of victory in the Republican primary, far below what the pundits had predicted. Now Rauner is trying to downplay his fierce anti-unionism, but we know better. In surrounding states like Wisconsin and Indiana, public workers no longer have the right to belong to a union that can bargain for their rights and fight to defend them. Bruce Rauner cites those states as models for where he wants to take Illinois. We’ve got to make sure he doesn’t succeed.

100% UNION! – We can’t win against Bruce Rauner – or any of the other serious threats that confront public service workers in our state – if we’re not united. The wealthy elite who are trying to take over our state know that the fastest route to total power is to divide and conquer working people.

AFSCME Illinois is launching the “100% UNION!” campaign to convey a potent message to every employer and every politician who wants to bring us down or wipe us out. We’re not going there!

We’re not 75% or 80% committed – we’re 100% committed to being Union! That’s why it’s so important that every represented employee is a union member, not just a Fair-Share fee-payer. And it’s important that every union member answer the call when action is needed to thwart an assault on our rights and benefits. If you have coworkers who aren’t full union members, encourage them to sign a union card today.

An educational evening in Springfield – The Springfield Trades and Labor Council is offering union members in central Illinois a special viewing of a new film that provides a potent and fascinating account of the growing economic gap in our society. Inequality for All, narrated by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, makes a compelling argument about how the devastating effects of America’s widening income inequality not only threaten the middle class but the very foundation of democracy itself. The community screening of this important film will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 1, in the Union Baptist Church, 1405 E. Monroe, Springfield. It is free and open to the public.

Courtesy of AFSCME Council 31