January 30, 2013
The following statement is by Michael T. Carrigan,
president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, speaking on behalf of the We Are One
Illinois union coalition, in response to Illinois House Speaker Michael
J. Madigan's rejection of the coalition's summit invitation:
We Are One Illinois regrets that Speaker Madigan has indicated he
will not participate in the Pension Summit proposed by our union
coalition. Our summit is a demonstration of good faith and commitment to
seeking to solve the state’s pension funding problem in a way that is
fair and constitutional.
Our coalition has already put forward a plan that addresses the
intertwined problems of inadequate revenues and underfunded pensions. It
would end the practice of politicians shorting actuarially required
payments to the retirement funds; ease state budget pressures by closing
wasteful tax loopholes, especially for big corporations; and require
active public employees to pay more toward the pensions they earn and
Our plan would provide at least $2.35 billion a year to
stabilize the retirement funds, while preventing cuts to retirees who
worked hard and played by the rules.
The We Are One Illinois plan has the potential to be a starting point
for participatory discussions around a pension-funding solution.
Crucially, we believe that pension legislation supported by all parties
is the only way to meet constitutional muster and avert costly and
time-consuming court battles.
In downgrading Illinois credit last week, Standard and Poor’s warned
that unconstitutional pension cuts “risk … legal challenges” that could
take “several years” to resolve, delaying “improved funded ratios and
budget relief.” Illinois doesn’t have years to waste. The We Are One
Illinois coalition of unions remains ready to work constructively on
this problem right now.
We have pointed out that the public employees and retirees
represented by our unions are helpers and problem-solvers by trade—the
teachers, the caregivers, the protectors and those who respond in
emergencies. They are committed to being a part of the solution to the
pension problem as well, but they can’t do it alone.
We were particularly surprised and disappointed that the Speaker
singled out state employees from our coalition—which includes teachers,
police, fire fighters, nurses, caregivers and many others—and decried
their efforts to maintain decent wages and affordable health care. In
terms of comparison to other states, it is true that Illinois state
employees are fairly paid—just as are other public employees , and
indeed unionized private sector workers in our state. Illinois is a
relatively high-wage state and all of our citizens are the better for
it. Further, when comparing benefits to private-sector workers, it must
be noted that nearly 80 percent of Illinois public employees—including
teachers, police, fire fighters and university employees—are not
eligible for Social Security. Finally, every serious, academic study has
shown that public employees are paid less in wages and earn less in
total compensation than comparable private-sector workers with similar
jobs and educational attainment.
On the pension issue, the Speaker is correct to recall a series of
discussions involving the union coalition, legislative leaders and the
governor nearly one year ago. We were disappointed when those
discussions were abruptly halted by the elected officials last spring,
and despite our invitations throughout the ensuing months, never
resumed. Our Feb. 11 Pension Summit is an opportunity to get back to
The people of Illinois want and deserve leaders who work together to
solve problems. The public employees and retirees who serve the people
need and depend on the modest pensions they earn and pay into from every
check. A pension-funding solution that is constitutional, sustainable
and fair requires openness and dialogue from all parties."