* Unlike in Springfield these days, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is trying to negotiate pension changes with labor leaders…
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle got down to brass tacks with labor leaders Thursday, setting a 30-day deadline for unions and county officials to help her craft legislation aimed at cleaning up the pension mess.
Preckwinkle and Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez, were among roughly 20 union and county leaders in the meeting, and both stressed no “ultimatum” was given.
“This is a mutual problem — there’s no need for tough talk,” Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times. “We’re trying to work together to solve this.”
“I emphasized this has to be shared sacrifice,” Preckwinkle said. “I told them we can’t wait any longer.”
* What’s on the table…
Preckwinkle declined to discuss specifics, but she outlined broad concepts. Both workers and county government would have to pay more money into the pension fund. Annual cost-of-living adjustments would be pegged to inflation. Older retirement ages would be phased in.
And health care coverage would be guaranteed for the first time, but limits would be placed on the annual cost increases paid for by the county. The county also would continue to provide traditional pensions rather than switch to 401(k)-type plans.
Just a decade ago, the county pension fund was sound, with 90 percent of the cash on hand needed to cover payments it was obligated to make. Now it has only 58 percent of what’s needed, leaving a shortfall of $5.8 billion.
They tried talking things through in Springfield, to no avail. Maybe this will work in Cook. The Chicago Federation of Labor seems interested in a compromise, so we’ll see.