CFA commends Illinois Supreme Court’s pension decision

The Illinois Supreme Court yesterday ruled unconstitutional an Illinois state law designed to cut public employee retirement benefits. The Campus Faculty Association (CFA) welcomes this comprehensive ruling from the Supreme Court, which is good news for all faculty and staff at the University and for all state workers. We are grateful to the plaintiffs, including SUAA and the We Are One Illinois union coalition, who achieved this victory.

The pension reduction law, Public Act 98-599, was signed by then-Governor Pat Quinn in December 2013. It amended the Illinois Pension Code by decreasing retirement benefits for workers who first became members of four out of five Illinois’ pension systems prior to January 1, 2011. It stopped automatic, compounded yearly cost-of-living increases for retirees, extended retirement ages for current state workers, and limited the amount of salary used to calculate pension benefits. In doing so, Public Act 98-599 stripped public employees of earned benefits guaranteed by their employers.

According to the Illinois Constitution (Article XIII, Section 5, “Pension and Retirement Rights”):

“Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

In its unanimous decision, the Court writes:

“The financial challenges facing state and local governments in Illinois are well known and significant. In ruling as we have today, we do not mean to minimize the gravity of the State’s problems or the magnitude of the difficulty facing our elected representatives. It is our obligation, however, just as it is theirs, to ensure that the law is followed. That is true at all times. It is especially important in times of crisis when, as this case demonstrates, even clear principles and long-standing precedent are threatened. Crisis is not an excuse to abandon the rule of law. It is a summons to defend it. How we respond is the measure of our commitment to the principles of justice we are sworn to uphold.”

CFA has consistently opposed pension-slashing legislation from Springfield and continues to affirm the constitutionally protected right for all Illinois state employees and retirees to receive their full pension benefits.

The University of Illinois administration, on the other hand, long ago signaled its willingness to accept big pension cuts and never fought hard for the interests of university employees. Then-President Easter advocated publicly for a “Six-Step Plan” to cut pensions, even though that plan had never been endorsed by the campus senates or by faculty or staff unions.

The need for an independent faculty organization is underscored by this unwillingness of the administration to consult faculty and other university employees on decisions regarding our welfare and benefits. CFA stands for shared governance and for balancing the power of the university administration with a strong faculty voice.

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