Workers, retirees urge state Supreme Court to declare pension theft unconstitutional

Public employees and retireesAttorneys for We Are One Illinois, active and retired state and university employees and teachers today urged the justices of the Illinois Supreme Court to uphold a Circuit Court decision declaring pension-cutting Senate Bill 1 (SB1, Public Act 98-599) unconstitutional and void.

Our attorneys argued that the state constitution's Pension Protection Clause means what it says: Membership in the state pension systems is "an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired."

"Over a lifetime of service, active and retired workers contributed to their pensions faithfully out of every paycheck,” Illinois AFL-CIO president Michael T. Carrigan said after the hearing. “Most of these public servants don’t qualify for Social Security, so their modest pensions are their life savings. Make no mistake: We’re here today due to the failure of politicians to pay the state’s share. Workers and retirees shouldn’t be punished for a problem they didn’t create.

“The framers of our constitution knew this day could come, when politicians might seek to avoid keeping their promises, opting instead to deny teachers, first responders, nurses, and other public employees and retirees their promised retirement. That’s why they made the language in the Illinois Constitution crystal clear,” Carrigan added. "Instead of honoring their responsibility, politicians would force public servants alone to rectify the failure to adequately fund the pension systems in the first place. That’s unfair and unconstitutional, so we seek justice today from our state’s highest court."

SB 1 reduces the value of pension benefits by one-third or more over 20 years in retirement by slashing cost-of-living adjustments and making other unfair, unconstitutional cuts to the pensions of working and retired members of the Teachers' Retirement System, State Employees' Retirement System, and State Universities Retirement System. The average pension benefit in these systems is approximately $32,000 a year.