Press Release: Group Representing More Than 1 Million Members Gears Up for Final Days to Defend Against Legislative Attacks on Public Employee Pensions

May 23, 2011

CHICAGO, IL—We Are One Illinois, an unprecedented statewide coalition representing more than 1 million members including firefighters, teachers, policemen, disability caregivers and other public employees, is activating its members for a pivotal week in the Illinois General Assembly in an effort to protect the modest pensions earned by public employees. 

As early as Tuesday, the state House Committee on Personnel and Pensions is expected to consider a bill that could dramatically cut pensions for current employees. A full vote by the General Assembly could come shortly after that as the Legislature prepares to adjourn by May 31st.

“There is a lot of misinformation about public employee pensions,” said Mike Carrigan, President of the Illinois AFL-CIO.  “We want people to know the facts,” he said.

Among those facts: 

•   Most Public Employees Are Not Eligible for Social Security: Unlike private sector workers, most public employees—including teachers and university employees, police and fire fighters, and Chicago and Cook County employees—do not qualify for Social Security.

•   Modest Pensions Often Constitute Life Savings:  A public employee’s pension is his or her own life savings, which he or she contributed to each and every paycheck—in most cases 8 or 9 percent. 

•   Illinois Public Employees Retire oOn Very Modest Pensions:  The average pension after a career dedicated to public service is just $32,000.

•   Politicians Caused Pension Debt:  For decades, Illinois politicians shorted or skipped the employer contributions required by law, creating the nation’s largest pension debt–even as public employees always paid their share faithfully and in full.

“Essentially, politicians have been using our pension contributions like a credit card,” Carrigan said. “Now they want to make public employees pay the price. That’s wrong.”

As part of its effort to educate the public, We Are One Illinois has been airing radio and TV ads statewide. The commercials are available to view at www.WeAreOneIllinois.org and feature public employees, including firefighters, police officers, teachers and nurses, talking about the work they do every day like fix streets, save lives and teach children.

In addition to television advertising, We Are One Illinois has launched a grassroots educational campaign to mobilize union members and Illinoisans across the state to stop politicians in Springfield from passing legislation to cut the modest pensions earned and paid into by public employees.  Tens of thousands of e-mails have been sent and calls made to Springfield legislators as a result of these efforts.

For interview requests please call 312-368-7533.  More information on the coalition is available at www.WeAreOneIllinois.org.