President Dan Montgomery: A Monumental Week for Working Families

by IFT President Dan Montgomery | Jul 08, 2014
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in Kanerva v. Weems that health care for retired state workers is a constitutionally protected benefit.

The following op-ed by IFT President Dan Montgomery was originally published in The State Journal-Register.  

The way last week started, it’s hard to believe how it ended.

Dan MontgomeryOn Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a powerful blow to our fundamental rights.

I’m not talking about the astonishing Hobby Lobby decision. Rather, in a less-discussed case, the justices’ decision in Harris v. Quinn weakened the home health care workforce in Illinois and could mean a drop in the quality of services you or your family relies on.

The court didn’t just “venture into a minefield,” as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote in her blistering Hobby Lobby dissent. It was brought there in Harris by corporate-funded right-wing ideologues who backed the plaintiffs’ case.

The lawsuit was funded by a national “right-to-work” organization with deep ties to the Koch brothers and Walmart to essentially say that even though you’re benefitting from a union representing you and securing better pay and conditions, you don’t have to contribute your fair share.

The decision will make it harder for some of the lowest paid workers, such as those who care for the elderly and disabled, to have a union and fight for a better wages, health care and respect.

We need a stable, qualified workforce to meet the growing need for home care, and having a strong union for these workers is the only approach that has been proven effective.

These truths are inconvenient and disruptive to corporate efforts and politicians who want to weaken unions and limit Americans’ pathways into the middle class.

That was Monday. On Thursday, the news got a little better when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in Kanerva v. Weems, a case brought by the Illinois Federation of Teachers and others, that health care for retired state workers is a constitutionally protected benefit.

Many have said this significant decision may be a predictive signal in our pending lawsuit challenging pension-slashing Senate Bill 1. That’s because the Kanerva decision is based on the same “plain and ordinary” constitutional language, as the court wrote, that pension benefits are a contractual relationship that “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

This provision was included by the framers specifically to ensure that Springfield could not break a promise simply because it was politically convenient. Essentially, the court agreed with the very American idea that a promise is a promise.

We’ve always maintained that the constitution clearly protects the hard-earned and promised retirement security of public employees. We continue to stand willing to work with legislators to develop fair and legal solutions to Illinois’ challenges.

While both Harris and Kanerva understandably were told as “union” stories, make no mistake: all working families are under attack. Whether it’s the health-care worker scraping by or the retired teacher who doesn’t receive Social Security, working people and unions have taken it on the chin for years. Stagnating wages, cuts to pensions and lack of upward mobility have defined the economic distress we’ve all experienced.

Click here to continue reading at