Unions oppose pension reform cuts

February 17, 2014 (CHICAGO)

City employee unions, including those representing teachers, police and firefighters, have drawn their line in the sand. They will not accept the same pension reform deal imposed on state workers.

"I keep saying that I feel that we've been robbed that someone is stealing from us," said retired teacher Patricia Boughton.

Perhaps sensitive to recent political ads focused on public "union bosses," rank-and-file members did most of the talking.

"I paid my money into the pension and the employment contract was that I would receive a pension," said firefighter Tom Ruane.

"It is wrong to blame us for wanting what is due us," retired nurse Helen Ramirez said.

The teachers, police officers, firefighters and other Chicago public employees, active as well as retired, were here to warn Illinois lawmakers that they oppose cuts like those imposed on deficit-ridden state retirement systems last year.

"We can't simply solve every problem on the backs of retirees or the people who do the work," said Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, facing tens of billions of dollars in unfunded pension debt to city workers and teachers, wants the state to act quickly. He says without reform, Chicago property taxes could rise dramatically in the next year.

Meanwhile, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton had worsening fiscal news. He says that after the 2011 state income tax begins to expire in January, next year's state budget will be nearly three billion dollars in deficit.

"This would exacerbate that pension problem if we don't have enough money to appropriate," Cullerton said.

Still, the unions want the city to keep its pension promises and to ensure those promises with more taxes on those who can afford to pay them.

"There needs to be conversation about revenue," Sharkey said. "We should talk about tax fairness, we should talk about closing loopholes."

The unions will bus members to Springfield on Wednesday to make their case. Also, the city unions are hoping the Illinois Supreme Court eventually will overturn the reform bill imposed on the state retirement systems.

That lawsuit is winding its way through the lower courts and will take at least several months before a final decision.

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