Labor's last stand- fighting off the pension thieves E-mail
Written by Cynthia Brown   

The union coalition We Are One Illinois and a group of active and retired public employees filed suit today in Sangamon County Circuit Court to overturn pension-slashing Senate Bill 1 (Public Act 98-599). Defendants in the suit are Governor Pat Quinn, other constitutional officers, the state retirement systems and their boards. “Our suit makes clear that pension theft is more than unfair, it’s unconstitutional,” said Illinois Police Benevolent & Protective Association Director and Chief Counsel Sean Michael Smoot. 

Smoot, who also serves as Treasurer of the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), stated,  “This lawsuit was filed because our teachers, nurses, emergency responders, and other workers and retirees will not stand by while politicians try to take away their life savings illegally. The legislature and our governor ignored their responsibility to uphold the Constitution, so we are seeking justice in court to right their wrongs. Promises made must be kept, and the rule of law will prevail over politics.”

We Are One Illinois Coalition members include the Illinois Police Benevolent and Protective Association; Illinois AFL-CIO; Illinois Federation of Teachers; Illinois Education Association; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73; Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois; Illinois Nurses Association; and other unions.

Summary of the Lawsuit

The We Are One Illinois lawsuit argues that the “pension theft” law violates the pension clause of the Illinois Constitution, which unequivocally states that a public employee’s pension is a contract that the state cannot diminish or impair.

Public employees and retirees “have upheld their end of that constitutionally-protected bargain,” the suit argues. It continues:

“Those Plaintiffs who are current employees teach our children, care for the sick and disabled, protect us from harm and perform myriad other essential services for Illinois and its citizens. Those

Plaintiffs who already have retired similarly dedicated their careers to the men, women and children of Illinois. And, each faithfully has contributed to his or her respective pension system the substantial portion of their paychecks the Illinois pension code requires.

“Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the State. The State chose to forgo funding its pension systems in amounts the State now claims were needed to fully meet the State’s annuity obligations.

Now, the State expects the members of those systems to carry on their backs the burden of curing the State’s longstanding misconduct. Specifically, Public Act 98-0599 unlawfully strips from public servants pension amounts to which they otherwise are entitled as a matter of law, let alone fundamental fairness.

“That is the very threat against which the Pension Clause protects.

“The Governor and the members of the General Assembly took an oath to uphold the Constitution. They acknowledge that other options exist to remedy the State’s knowing failure to adequately fund the State’s pension systems. But rather than work to remedy the impact of the State’s conduct in a manner that comports with their oath, complies with the Illinois Constitution and upholds the State’s constitutional promise to pension system members, the Governor and General Assembly unlawfully look the other way.

“Plaintiffs thus turn to this Court for protection and commence this action to defend their constitutionally-protected rights and protect the pensions they have earned. Plaintiffs request that the Court declare Public Act 98-0599, in its entirety, unconstitutional, void and unenforceable.”

The lawsuit also seeks a stay of the pension theft statute’s implementation until the Constitutionality of the statute is determined by Illinois’ Supreme Court.


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