We Are One Illinois Coalition files suit to overturn “pension theft” law
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 not only unfair, it’s clearly unconstitutional,” said Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael T. Carrigan. “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 governor shirked their responsibility to uphold the constitution, so we are seeking justice in court to right their wrongs. Promises must be kept, and the rule of law must prevail over politics.”
We Are One Illinois Coalition members include the 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; Illinois Fraternal Order of Police State Lodge; Illinois Police Benevolent and Protective Association; Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois; Illinois Nurses Association; Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 2002; Teamsters Local 700; and Teamsters Joint Council 25.
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 coalition’s filing seeks to certify a class action representing all individuals, active or retired, who first contributed to the State Employees Retirement System, the State Universities Retirement System, or the Teachers Retirement System before January 1, 2011.
The suit’s 25 named plaintiffs representing the class are:
Lee Ayers of Chicago, a clinical lab technician at a university medical center for approximately 25 years;
David Behymer of Rushville, a retired teacher who taught art to children ranging from pre-school to high school for 30 years;
Christine Bondi of Ontarioville, who has worked for the Illinois Secretary of State for approximately 28 years as a public service representative and administering driving tests;
Monica Butts of Westville, a cashier with the Secretary of State for more than 12 years;
Gary Ciaccio of Kankakee, who for 33 years has worked for the Illinois Department of Human Services, caring for people with mental health issues or developmental disabilities;
Edward Corrigan of Pontiac, who retired after approximately 20 years as a correctional officer at an Illinois prison;
Michael Day of O’Fallon, a high school history teacher for 20 years;
Kenneth Dugan of Pesotum, an Air Force veteran and former state trooper who retired after serving nearly 30 years as a firefighter for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fire department;
Jennifer Edwards of Chicago, who retired after approximately 30 years in various positions at the University of Illinois at Chicago, including assistants to the History Department chairperson and the head of the Department of Pediatrics;
Elaine Ferguson of Nauvoo, a retired teacher who taught kindergarten and first grade for more than 30 years;
Denise Funfsinn of Mendota, a special education teacher for 29 years;
Terri Gifford of Springfield, a health and physical education teacher for approximately 30 years;
Gwendolyn Harrison of Springfield, who has helped citizens find information for 14 years as a librarian for the Illinois Secretary of State;
James Herrington of Fairview Heights, a high school and college math teacher for 35 years;
Marlene Koerner of Herrin, a retiree who taught for more than 30 years;
Gary Kroeschel of Chatham, who has served as an information systems analyst for approximately 14 years;
Ellen Larrimore of Chicago, a library specialist for the past seven years at Northern Illinois University;
J. Todd Louden of Good Hope, who for nearly 30 years served in the Western Illinois University police force;
Stephen Mittons of Sun River Terrace, who is a child protection investigator and has worked for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for approximately 19 years;
Jose Prado of Willowbrook, who has worked as a correctional officer and sergeant in an Illinois state prison for 15 years;
James Sheridan of DeKalb, who has served as a maintenance worker at Northern Illinois University for 13 years;
Thomas Tate of Salem, a nurse who for 34 years has served in the Illinois Department of Human Services caring for individuals with developmental disabilities;
D’Ann Urish of Springfield, a special education teacher who has spent 31 years educating middle school students with behavioral and learning disorders;
Caryl Wadley-Foy of Bradley, who retired after 32 years as a secretary in a state residential facility for individuals with developmental disabilities; and
Julie Young of Owaneco, an 11-year employee of the Secretary of State.
The suit was filed today (Tuesday, Jan. 28) in the Circuit Court for the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Sangamon County, Springfield, Illinois. Sangamon is home to thousands of class members, as well as the state capitol and offices of the statewide officeholders and retirement systems named as defendants. Two of the three previously filed suits on this subject matter have been filed in Sangamon County as well.
STAY OF IMPLEMENTATION
In order to prevent irreparable harm to public employees and retirees who face immediate and irrevocable life decisions, and to avert unduly burdensome administrative complications for the state retirement systems, We Are One Illinois strongly believes that the pension-cutting law must not be implemented before its constitutionality is decided in court.
Consequently, the union coalition has sought for the past several weeks to reach agreement with the state Attorney General and the named defendants on a joint request to the court to enjoin the law’s implementation. Regrettably, the Attorney General refused. In its filing, We Are One Illinois reserves the right to seek an injunction.