Pension Battle Rages On The We Are One Illinois union coalition continues to hold the pension-slashing forces at bay, but the fight is getting ever fiercer. The coalition fought off SB 1, legislation that would have drastically reduced pension benefits for both active and retired public employees, but was unable to generate sufficient pressure to secure a vote in the House on SB 2404, the union-backed bill that makes much more modest changes to pension benefits. Click here to read about the differences between SB 1 and SB 2404. House Speaker Michael Madigan has adamantly refused to allow a House vote on SB 2404, even though it passed the Senate by a wide margin.

Instead, the four legislative leaders agreed to establish a special “conference committee” made up of twelve legislators from both houses and both parties. The conference committee held three hearings over the past month, two in Chicago and one in Springfield, all of them packed to overflowing with union members and retirees. Here’s a shout out to the dozens of AFSCME members in Chicago and Springfield who used personal or vacation time to come out to those hearings to make clear the strong opposition that exists to steep pension cuts.

The conference committee now appears to be focusing on a new so-called “compromise” plan put forward by state university presidents. Unfortunately, this “university plan” is essentially nothing more than SB 1 in sheep’s clothing. It would reduce the annual COLA to one-half of the CPI. That means that retirees would always lag significantly behind the cost of living. And over two decades, just as with SB 1, the value of an individual’s pension would be reduced by some 30%.

Even though Gov. Pat Quinn had advocated for the formation of the conference committee, he immediately sought to undermine its efforts by insisting that it produce a bill for a vote by July 9—and that the bill meet his demand that public employees and retirees pay the entire cost of the state’s failure to adequately fund pensions.

When the committee—and the General Assembly—failed to follow his orders, Quinn vetoed legislative pay out of the budget, saying that legislators would not be paid until they passed his pension-slashing bill. That’s not leadership; it’s political blackmail, plain and simple. The governor is withholding legislators’ salaries—in their entirety–unless they agree to make drastic cuts to the pension benefits of public employees and retirees.

His actions may be drawing accolades from the Chicago Tribune and the corporate elite who want to see pension benefits slashed. But his coercive ploy should be condemned by all those who recognize that everyone—even legislators—should be paid their agreed-upon salary, and that no governor should be able to withhold pay to compel legislators to vote a certain way.

Make sure to let your legislators know that you expect them to stand up to Quinn’s bullying tactics and to refuse to vote for SB 1 or any other bill that drastically cuts your pension benefits. Tell them to support the plan embodied in SB 2404 which repairs the pension system in a way that is fair to employees and retirees. And be sure to tell them that they can help address the state’s revenue problems by closing corporate tax loopholes!

The Fight for Pay Fairness It’s been more than two years now since Governor Quinn withheld negotiated pay increases from tens of thousands of state employees. In response, AFSCME filed a lawsuit, ramped up grassroots pressure with the Quinn Truth Squads, and put the issue front and center in negotiations for a new contract. As a result of the fight on all these fronts, the Quinn Administration reversed course and agreed to make employees whole. Effective July 1, all employees were placed at their appropriate salary level. The paychecks employees receive this month will reflect that salary adjustment (wages and steps)—along with the 2% salary increase negotiated in the new contract.

But the fight is not over. Many employees still have not received the back pay they are owed as a result of the governor’s actions. Pursuant to its agreement with the union, the Quinn administration tried to withdraw the state’s appeal of the judge’s order that the back wages must be paid and worked with the union to enact a supplemental appropriation to pay the monies owed. But Attorney General Lisa Madigan has thus far refused to withdraw the appeal, while House Speaker Michael Madigan refused to allow the appropriation to be called for a vote in the House.

AFSCME will once again be fighting for passage of a supplemental appropriation in the General Assembly’s fall veto session—and local unions will be gearing up a grassroots lobbying effort right after Labor Day. But if you’re among those who haven’t received your back pay, it’s not too early to call your state senator and state representative right now to urge them to speak out in support of fairness for state workers.

Maximus Privatization Nixed – AFSCME members won a significant victory in the battle against privatization of state services with a recent arbitration ruling that the state’s $72 million contract with Maximus Health Services must be terminated by the end of the year.

Last year, due to a shortage of staff in the Department of Human Services, Illinois had fallen behind in making redeterminations of eligibility for Medicaid benefits. Rather than hire sufficient staff, the State contracted the work out to Maximus.

Council 31 filed a grievance asserting violation of the subcontracting provisions of the contract. The case eventually went to arbitration and last month the arbitrator ruled in the Union’s favor, requiring that all bargaining unit work contracted out to Maximus be returned to bargaining unit employees.

AFSCME members in DHFS and DHS played a vital role in this important victory by providing concrete examples of the deficiencies in the contractor’s performance. Based on their information, AFSCME was able to present a great deal of evidence at the arbitration hearing that the Maximus contract is causing significant inefficiencies and that the State could save over $18 million annually by hiring bargaining unit employees instead of using a contractor.

The Quinn administration has not indicated whether it intends to appeal the arbitrator’s ruling.

SB 1556 Implementation – Despite two years of fierce opposition from AFSCME and other unions, earlier this year the state Senate followed the House in caving in to Gov. Quinn’s demand to strip thousands of state employees of their collective bargaining rights. Based on the phony claim that state government’s high level of union membership was inhibiting the administration’s ability to effectively manage, legislators voted to enact SB 1556, which gives the governor unilateral authority to take bargaining rights away from up to 1,900 union members.

SB 1556 impacts union members who meet certain very broad “managerial or supervisory” criteria and who gained union representation on or after December 2, 2008.

At the time the bill passed its sponsor, Senator Don Harmon, assured the Union that he had received commitments from the governor that would minimize the damage it would do. Since that time, AFSCME has been working to secure those protections in a legally enforceable Memorandum of Understanding between CMS and the Union. The Union is seeking to: limit the number of bargaining unit positions that will be impacted; protect the salaries of members who are removed from the bargaining unit; and give affected members the right to move to available bargaining unit positions.

While progress has been made in addressing these concerns, the discussions are still ongoing. The administration has agreed not to proceed with removing any individuals from the bargaining unit until the discussions are completed.

Parades, Picnics and Politics It’s summertime, when everyone is looking for a little bit of down time. It’s easy—and fun—to settle down with a cold beer and a hot braut at a local picnic, park district fireworks, or other community celebration. But those gatherings are often prime territory for politicians looking to shake hands and gather good will. It’s critical that we don’t let those politicians who’ve done us wrong think that they’ve gathered any of ours.

At a recent parade in the town of Evanston where Senator Dan Biss was marching merrily along, he made the mistake of trying to shake the hand of a member of the firefighters’ union. The firefighter immediately let the senator have it—refusing to shake his hand and loudly chewing him out for his leading role in seeking to slash the pension benefits of public employees. That was a parade the senator won’t soon forget.

Make sure you know where your state legislators and other elected officials stand on issues of importance to working families. And if those individuals show up at summer gatherings in your community, be sure to thank them if they’ve stood with union members—and let them know how disappointed you are in them if they haven’t.

Via AFSCME Council 31