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IFT and the ongoing fight against pension theft legislation

3/03/2015
As we approach our day in Supreme Court on March 11, we want to keep you informed about the ongoing lawsuit against pension-slashing Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), and explain the IFT’s key role in this fight on your behalf.

The IFT is a leading partner in a powerful coalition of public employee unions, We Are One Illinois. Together, we have demonstrated to lawmakers that even though public employees didn’t cause the pension system funding problem, we stand ready to work with them to craft a proposal that is fair to our members, constitutional, and
actually solves the funding problem.

The IFT has played a key role in staving off some serious threats to your retirement security. As you know, SB 1 was passed and signed into law in December 2013. IFT and our union partners immediately secured the best legal representation to fight this unfair and unconstitutional law. As we headed to court in January 2014, our collective argument against “pension theft” was assertive and clear: under the Pension Protection Clause in the Illinois Constitution, public employee pension benefits cannot be diminished or impaired.

In May 2014, the Circuit Court of Sangamon County granted our motion for an injunction of the law, which stopped any pension cuts contained within SB 1 from being implemented until the courts have ruled on its constitutionality. This crucial, initial victory secured by We Are One has protected your benefits while the legal process is pending and continues to protect you from irreparable harm to this day.

Meanwhile, the IFT and our union partners brought a separate lawsuit in Kanerva v. Weems seeking to overturn different legislation (SB 1313) that increased health care premiums for retired state workers. In this case, we argued again that these benefits are constitutionally protected. The court strongly agreed, ruling the premium increases were unconstitutional and forcing the state to revert to previous premium rates and refund retirees for increases already paid.

In November 2014, the Circuit Court agreed with We Are One and the other plaintiff groups that challenged the constitutionality of SB 1. The Court rejected the State’s defense, found the Constitution to prohibit any diminishment of benefits, and declared that the law was “unconstitutional and void in its entirety.” This was a HUGE victory for our members, both active and retired, as well as all workers!

As you may know, the State defendants appealed the Circuit Court’s judgment to the Illinois Supreme Court, where an accelerated process is underway. The IFT and our partners look forward to the opportunity to reiterate for the Supreme Court our position that the Constitution is the highest law of this State and trumps political expediency.

The Pension Protection Clause was specifically designed to prohibit a reduction in pension benefits based on precisely the claim of fiscal necessity that the State now uses to justify SB 1. That’s why we argue that the Pension Protection Clause means what its plain language says—the State cannot diminish or impair your pension benefits, regardless of the circumstances.

The IFT is proud of the strategic role we have played to date in the pension fight. We have blocked serious threats to your retirement security, and we will continue that effort to ensure that a pension is a promise. But our success so far wouldn’t have been possible without informed, active members like you. Your voice matters, and we look forward to continuing our work together until we reach a fair, constitutional solution to the funding challenges we face.

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