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Preckwinkle tries a different approach

Friday, Feb 8, 2013

* 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.

* Background

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.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

15 Comments
  1. - Empty Chair - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 9:46 am:

    Jorge vs. Henry - ask any elected official who they would rather deal with, nine times out of ten I bet they’d say Jorge.


  2. - illinifan - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 9:56 am:

    I think this offers reasonable proposals that sound a little more concrete. COLA tied to inflation makes more sense than the 1/2 of the CPI model (retirees could live with the idea of keeping up with inflation vs a flat amount), and health care issue where it looks like there would be a clear definition of what is paid vs. you get access but we won’t tell what the access means to your pocket book.

    As retirees we know there are no guarantees but to plan for your future it helps to have concrete offers not take it or leave it and no one ever tells you what it is…


  3. - Anonymous - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 9:57 am:

    Perhaps the difference is in part that in Cook, the problem was not caused by the County. To the extent there is fault beyond the economic downturn, it was caused by the union getting the legislature to sweeten benefits over the past twenty years. So there is no traction to the rock throwing at the employer for failing to fund their share. The unions know they overreached and are willing to negotiate their way back to sustainability.


  4. - Nickypiii - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 9:59 am:

    The County made the pension fund responsible for retiree health care costs a few years back. This change has had an adverse impact on the funding percentage of the County pension funds. Shouldn’t the coming changes in the ACA be considered before employees benefits be cut/changed? Shouldn’t all Illinois governments push those employees into the exchanges that are to be set up? The lower the income the more the feds will reimburse the insured. Health care cost increases are already slowing down due to the ACA. Shouldn’t all Illinois governments purchase health insurance policies for their employees together to ensure a lower cost basis?


  5. - Dan Johnson - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:08 am:

    Nickypii is on to something. The amount we are paying in public employee and public employee retiree health insurance is kind of crazy. Shouldn’t we be putting these pools of employees together into one big pool and save some money?


  6. - Small Town Liberal - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:13 am:

    Wow, an elected official asking for increased contribution and COLA modification, and a public employee union willing to talk about it?

    AFSCME ought to take note if they think the public would support them during a strike, seems that other public employees might not even support them.


  7. - Amalia - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:13 am:

    here’ s hoping that as they consider throwing around health insurance plans that they take into account that people not only get attached to a doctor and/or a hospital, but if one is in the midst of a health crisis, attachment to hospital is pretty deep. looking at where the insurance road enables one to go for care is very frightening.


  8. - Cook County Commoner - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:28 am:

    Aren’t Cook County and most larger local governements self-isured for heathcare costs? And they use health insurers merely to run the plan?
    And could you see local gov units consolidating their pools and squabling over who gets the contracts to run the plans?


  9. - reformer - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:33 am:

    This is just more evidence about why Preckwinkle is the state’s most effective elected official. Rather than public blaming and posturing on pensions, Preckwinkle is negotiating with the unions to fix the problem.


  10. - Small Town Liberal - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:38 am:

    - Preckwinkle is negotiating with the unions to fix the problem. -

    Unions that are willing to discuss COLA modification, apparently.


  11. - Dan Johnson - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:48 am:

    I don’t think they are self-insured for retirees, Cook County Commoner. Are they?


  12. - Chi - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 11:23 am:

    AFSCME has many members working for Cook County. Some comments here seem to overlook that.


  13. - very pertinent - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 11:40 am:

    ==Perhaps the difference is in part that in Cook, the problem was not caused by the County. To the extent there is fault beyond the economic downturn, it was caused by the union getting the legislature to sweeten benefits over the past twenty years. So there is no traction to the rock throwing at the employer for failing to fund their share. The unions know they overreached and are willing to negotiate their way back to sustainability.===

    Makes sense to me.


  14. - Waldi - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 12:24 pm:

    I sure wish that Ms. Preckwinkle would reconsider running for Governor.


  15. - titan - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 12:57 pm:

    Through the years, the COLA at 3% per year has matched inflation pretty well (some years lately it was high, some a while back it was very low). Inflation is likely to return to more historical norms, so switching from flat 3% COLA to a floating one to match inflation is likely not going to matter much (or may even hurt the governmental interests if inflation runs high for a while).


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