By Teachers, For Teachers
May 17--DIXON, IL -- Teachers gathered outside state Sen. Tim Bivins' Dixon office Wednesday to pre-emptively protest a bill that might be introduced today.
As the state tries to grapple with massive unfunded pension costs, unions worry that possible pension changes may follow the example set in 2010 when both chambers passed pension changes for future employees in a single day.
"This is not looking to negotiate," said Dixon resident Alan Nowicki, a biology instructor at Highland Community College in Freeport.
"It's looking to impose something on us, and we don't know what it is. We have no idea, but we know that it will be less. If it was something that was going to be fair, I think we could negotiate it beforehand."
There are a number of proposals going around, but only some of them have been introduced.
One introduced last year would have changed benefits for current employees in the years going forward but would not affect benefits already accrued.
Under a proposal from House Speaker Michael Madigan, which an aide said was contributed for "discussion purposes," revenue earmarked for local governments and school districts would be used to pay the state's pension costs.
Gov. Pat Quinn proposed requiring employees to contribute more, phase in a higher retirement age of 67 and put in place a funding schedule.
"Would you want us at 67 years old teaching you?" said Marla Boynton, a Dixon resident who teaches Spanish at Sterling High School. "Is that fair to kids to have a 67-year-old actively teaching?"
Even though many of the teachers understood that the pension liability would have to be covered somehow, many were angry that they were being targeted when it was the state that didn't put in its fair share.
"We've put in our money all this time," said Joyce Craney, who is retiring this year after 35 years teaching special education at Challand Middle School in Sterling.
"We've put our share in, and then you start to look at, they're going to dip into ours for things that are not our fault. Our part's there."
Craney also worries that because future employees were the first group to be affected, and now current employees are being looked at, that those already retired may be next on the chopping block, she said.
Bivins wasn't at his office Wednesday, but in a phone call from Springfield, he said he was against any legislative changes to pensions because of constitutionality issues.
The state constitution prohibits diminishing or impairing pension benefits.
Instead, the Legislature should be looking at programs that are ineffective or new, Bivins said.
"Something will have to be done [about the pension liability]," he said. "What you have to do is negotiate with the unions, and if the unions are in agreement, my understanding is the union contract supersedes state law and the constitution."
The other option, he said, is to take a constitutional amendment to Illinois voters.
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Image source: The Observer