I've had a couple of inquiries about why IEA has declined to formally support or promote a member's e-petition on the pension issue. Let me explain: The short answer is that the petition in question is not reflective of the IEA/We Are One Illinois coalition position on the pension issue. The petition reflects its drafters' very strongly held belief that we (IEA and the coalition) should not be trying to negotiate a solution to the pension problem. While anyone is entitled to hold an opinion on the pension issue, the view expressed in the petition conflicts with the position of the IEA officers, the IEA board and with the other members of the coalition (including any who might have signed the petition).
* We can work like hell to negotiate a fair and constitutional solution that protects your pension and the pensions of every other affected IEA member.
Delivering that message is our focus. We don't need any distractions. The stakes are too high.
First, let’s re-read the petition:
Illinois Revenue and Debt Reform, Not Pension Reform!
Many Illinois legislators want to challenge the Illinois and U.S. Constitutions instead of addressing the causes of the state's budget deficits. Illinois public employees have earned their pensions. Their pension is a constitutionally-guaranteed contract. That's why I created a petition to The Illinois State House, The Illinois State Senate, and Governor Pat Quinn, which says:
"Illinois has a pension debt and revenue problem. Most legislators know this, and they also understand the concept of justice and what lawfulness demands: that people must keep their covenants with one another. No justice is accomplished when diminishing public employees' earned benefits and rights because of decades of legislators' irresponsibility, corruption and incompetence. Stop Illinois pension reform. It is immoral and illegal."
Will you sign this petition? Click here: Illinois Revenue and Debt Reform, Not Pension Reform!
It is disappointing to discover that you chose not to respond to me personally but to another IEA member instead. The petition does not say to avoid negotiation! Indeed, the IEA (and the rest of the Illinois We Are One Coalition) should “negotiate a solution to the pension problem.” That solution, however, should address the pension debt and revenue problems without consideration to increase teachers’ contributions, to diminish the teachers’ COLA, or to impair the constitutionally-guaranteed contract through modification of contract principles. A “fair” and “constitutional” solution does not mean sacrificing teachers and other public employees again and again.
Furthermore, when you state, “[the petition] conflicts with opinions of [the IEA] members… We’ve asked them. They’ve told us”: according to Jim Reed, only “600” members were polled. This is not a reliable and sufficient sampling of the IEA membership or of any other organization for that matter. An interesting point of comparison is this petition has 5900+ signers [as of April 19th].
In my previous post, I stated that many of us (especially retirees that the IEA does not legally represent) believe there will never be enough impairments of the Pension Clause to satisfy unscrupulous legislators with a mania for so-called “pension reform.” Too many legislators are dependent on the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago’s campaign money and influenced by the Committee’s collective ill-will toward public employees.
Eric M. Madiar, Chief Legal Counsel to Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton and Parliamentarian of the Illinois Senate, states it this way: “Pension benefits are under siege for two reasons: opportunity and political motives” (Defending and Protecting Public Employees’ Pensions against the Legislative Siege). Many public employees (read the comments on our petition online) argue that unions should not bargain away any of the public employees’ “constitutionally-guaranteed,” earned rights and benefits.
Why? Because “a public employee obtains ‘vested rights’ in the Pension Code provisions relevant to pension benefits when the employee becomes a member of a pension system by making his or her initial employee contribution to the system. In addition, the ‘Pension Clause’ protects pension benefit rights as an enforceable contractual relationship” (Madiar, “Is Welching on Public Pensions an Option for the State of Illinois…”).
Despite this important assurance from the Chief Legal Counsel and Parliamentarian of the Illinois Senate, key legislators are still saying, “Let the courts decide” on the issue of breaking a contract. It’s unfair that you assume I would advocate letting the courts decide or “rolling the dice” (the “easier lift”) as you call it regarding this crisis. This is a falsehood that needs no rebuttal.
If legislators agree to meet with the Coalition, please “work like hell to negotiate a fair and constitutional solution” that does not diminish the existing contract already in place. Consider that any modification of contract principles will never be enough because it’s a revenue and pension debt problem. To be sure, “The stakes are too high.”
Without a doubt, most of us believe every public employee has a “promised pension” guaranteed by the Illinois and U.S. Constitutions, and I will continue to support only competent, dynamic union leadership. Though your and my “entitled… opinion on the pension issue” might be “conflicting,” it should never be “disingenuous.” “The gravest of [offenses] is to argue sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to misstate the elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion…” (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty).
Please read my previous post for elucidation and intention: Modification of Contract Principles (and what many petitioners want their unions to do.