“For years and years and years, benefits were being increased but contributions were not.” That’s the simplest, easiest-to-understand summary of our current pension mess, as articulated by Jason Grotto, the Tribune reporter who researched and co-authored several recent stories on the pension messes in Illinois and Chicago.
This week we saw Mayor Emanuel in Springfield asking for legislation that would suspend for ten years the cost-of-living increases all City retirees currently receive. That has infuriated retirees, who say that they worked for perhaps thirty years as a sanitation worker, a police officer or firefighter, dutifully paying their fair share into the system and knowing they wouldn’t get Social Security. But Grotto says the workers also had a voice in the process. Union leadership had a seat at the table, he says, and they knew what was happening. But the labor leadership never pushed to get the pensions fully funded, he asserts. Now, there has to be shared, and fairly draconian, sacrifice.
We’re also joined by Tribune Editorial Board member Kristen McQueary, who addresses the news that the Laborers’ union representing, among others, Streets and San workers, has agreed to significant contractual changes such as lower starting pay and cross-training for multiple jobs. “In the private sector we’re cross-trained, we’re asked to do lots of different duties, so going after some of these work rules that prohibited Streets and San from assigning people to different roles makes sense.”
There’s also discussion about “legislating while lobbying”, with some stark examples of suburban elected officials who supplement their income by lobbying other legislative bodies, and how it’s all perfectly legal in Illinois. In fact we’re one of the few states that allow legislators to lobby.
All that and a few thoughts on Pat Quinn 2.0, the governor who believes he was “put on earth” to solve the pension mess.