emptyhouseILD-Day for pensions?

Legislators fail to pay state workers
Fixing the state’s finances
D-Day for pensions – December 3? The General Assembly’s four legislative leaders have been meeting in secret for weeks to cook up a pension bill that they all agree on. Their plan is to jam it through in just a day or two without any time for public review or grassroots lobbying.

Now it looks like they’re moving forward with that plan. Word came out today that both the House and Senate have told legislators to come back into session the first week of December, most likely December 3.

Last spring the House and Senate passed vastly different bills—the House backed SB 1, which makes steep cuts to the benefits of both active and retired employees, while the Senate supported SB 2404, which was negotiated with the We Are One Illinois union coalition and makes only modest changes to the pension plans.

Nobody knows yet what the agreement is, but rumor has it that the final bill will be very close to SB 1, which would slash your pension benefits by as much as 30%.

And now it looks like all four legislative leaders are prepared to put the squeeze on rank-and-file legislators who’ve stood with public employees in the past. It’s going to be critically important that your legislators hear from you—and that they know how strongly you oppose any bill that makes drastic cuts to your pension benefits.

We’ve got to be ready to take immediate action. The We Are One Illinois union coalition is putting a grassroots lobbying plan in place right now. Details will be coming to you soon. When you get the call, make sure you respond. There won’t be any second chances.

Legislators fail to pay state workers

Legislators returned to Springfield for the Fall Veto Session with their pay problems solved. When Governor Quinn vetoed monies appropriated for their pay, they rushed to court to challenge his actions. In no time flat, the court ruled they should get their money. And they did.

But somehow many of them seem to think it’s OK not to pay the money that’s owed to frontline workers who are on the job every day. State employees in five agencies—DHS, DJJ, DOC, DNR and DPH—have been waiting more than two years for the back wages owed to them after Governor Quinn withheld their negotiated pay increase.

Legislators wrapped up the Veto Session without taking action on a supplemental appropriation to pay these employees the money they’re owed.

The new AFSCME contract with the state required that employee salaries be brought up to the appropriate level—and that was done on July 1. But payment of back wages relied on legislative action to pass a supplemental appropriation for the amount owed. As part of the contract settlement, the Quinn administration agreed to lobby for passage of the supplemental.

While some employees received all or a portion of their back pay as a result of pay-outs from funds AFSCME convinced the court to escrow for that purpose, more than 20,000 employees are still owed all or a portion of the wage increases that were withheld in FY 2011 and FY 2012—totaling some $112 million.

Despite broad support for the supplemental appropriation in both houses, Speaker Michael Madigan would not allow it to be called for a vote in the spring session. At the time Madigan offered no explanation, letting the blame fall on its chief sponsor, Rep. John Bradley.

In the fall veto session, however, Madigan claimed that the supplemental was not needed because agencies had funding in their FY 14 budget lines to pay their employees the back wages.

During the second week of Veto Session, AFSCME held a Back Pay Action Day at the State Capitol to urge key legislators to speak out more strongly for action on a supplemental appropriation. Twenty-five teams of AFSCME local leaders from across the state travelled to Springfield to present “Collection Notices” to their legislators and press them to stand up for state employees. Almost every legislator they visited pledged to do more to help.

And several legislators from both sides of the aisle did speak out for payment of the back wages on the floor of the General Assembly—most notably Representatives Ken Dunkin, Don Moffitt, Brandon Phelps, Jerry Costello, Dan Beiser, Pat Verschoore, Mike Bost and Senator Mike Jacobs.

It’s crucial to keep the pressure on every legislator until all employees are paid the money they’re owed. If you’re among the affected employees, call, e-mail, text or visit your state representative and state senator NOW to let them know how disappointed you are that the General Assembly failed to take action to ensure that you are paid the money you’re owed. Tell them that the next time they return to Springfield, making employees whole should be at the top of their list.

Fixing the state’s finances

Among the most crucial resolutions passed by delegates to last month’s AFSCME Council 31 biennial convention was a measure to throw the full weight of our union behind A Better Illinois, the campaign to amend the Illinois Constitution and permit a “fair tax”—an income tax with higher rates for those with higher incomes, and lower rates for lower incomes.

Thirty-five other states already have such a fair tax structure in place, but our state’s constitution currently bars it.

That convention resolution commits our union to join with other coalition partners who’ve already collected more than 150,000 petition signatures in support of this tax reform plan. It pledges AFSCME members to add 50,000 additional signatures by the time the General Assembly returns for its new legislative session in January.

Given the budget-driven challenges we continue to face—tough contract fights, layoffs, facility and office closures, and other harmful cuts to the essential public services we provide at every level—AFSCME members know better than anyone the devastation caused by years of broken budgets.

We also see firsthand the misplaced priorities of far too many politicians who hand out multimillion-dollar tax breaks to big corporations and let the rich get off without paying their fair share. In fact, 2 in 3 Illinois corporations pay no corporate income tax at all.

Without the fair tax, things could get even worse. The temporary tax increase passed in 2010 is set to expire at the end of 2014, reducing state revenues by some $5 billion a year and threatening unthinkable cuts to vital services that would result in massive layoffs.

That’s why AFSCME is one of more than 100 organizations endorsing A Better Illinois and its campaign to replace the broken “flat tax” with a fair tax—one that allows higher rates for rich people and big corporations with higher incomes, and lower rates for working people and small businesses with lower incomes. A recent statewide poll found that 92% of voters agree that “the tax system in Illinois is broken and needs to be fixed,” 82% say that “too often, rich people avoid paying their fair of taxes” and 77% support an amendment to allow a fair tax in Illinois.

The fair tax requires amending the Constitution. This can only be done by the state Senate and House each passing a resolution with a super-majority before May 2014, then putting the question on the November 2014 ballot for approval by the voters.

The campaign has already built strong momentum. Today, more than 60 legislators are co-sponsoring legislation to allow the fair tax constitutional amendment to be placed on the November ballot. The petition campaign is intended to persuade more to come on board. Your local union will be circulating petitions to advance that goal. Be sure to sign when the petition comes your way. Even better, contact your local and get petitions to circulate to your friends and neighbors.

You can learn more about A Better Illinois at www.ABetterIllinois.org.

News via afscme council 31