I wrote recently about the concept of duress (or coercion) as a vitiating (legally defective) factor. Legislators of the State of Illinois are breaching a contract by forcing public employees to make a choice to diminish their originally-vested and paid-for guarantee. Legislators are breaking an enforceable promise, one that is bilateral and emphasizes an agreement between the State of Illinois and its public employees as to their future rights and benefits.
Regarding the diminishment of the COLA, SB 1673 offers public employees no ethical and lawful alternatives except to consent to the General Assembly’s demands by choosing between two illicit choices; second, this is unlawful because of the illegitimacy of the General Assembly’s advantageous attempt to renegotiate a constitutionally-guaranteed contract; third, it is unlawful to induce undue pressure upon public employees to make an unfair choice; fourth, this is an unjust financial enhancement for the General Assembly because it is a breach of contract for public employees to receive less than what the original vested right and benefit guaranteed, and it is also a blatant exploitation of influence to obtain an unwarranted advantage.
“The notion that, whenever a privilege or benefit might be withheld altogether, it may be withheld on whatever conditions government chooses to impose, has been repeatedly repudiated since the mid-20th century… Unconstitutional conditions – those that make enjoyment of a benefit contingent on sacrifice of an independent constitutional right – are invalid…” (Lawrence H. Tribe, American Constitutional Law).
There are practical alternatives that will enable the state to uphold its contract with public employees, and they are also constitutional. Have we already forgotten what these practical alternatives are and what the General Assembly can do instead of misappropriation? Here is a recap: