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Unions plan 'emergency days' to lobby lawmakers on pensions

Published: Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 12:37 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 2:28 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois' biggest public employee unions are planning a concerted lobbying push to oppose a developing plan to deal with the state's $100 billion pension crisis.

The "We are One Coalition," which represents the state's major public employee unions, sent an email to members Tuesday about "emergency call-in days" next week and Dec. 2-3.

Members are being asked to call lawmakers and urge them to vote against pension bills that don't have union support.

The coalition also says that members plan to visit the offices of "persuadable" lawmakers across the state for "a vigorous grassroots lobbying effort" with as many union members and retirees in attendance as possible.

Legislative leaders met Thursday to firm up a plan that could save close to $150 million over 30 years. As currently constructed, the plan would replace the current 3 percent annual compounded cost-of-living increase that retirees receive with one that is equal to half the inflation rate, with a minimum increase of 1 percent and maximum of 4 percent. The U.S. inflation rate stood at 1 percent last month, according to the Federal Reserve.

The plan also would reduce employee contributions by 1 percent – a concession to state employees for other sacrifices that proponents say would allow it to better withstand a certain constitutional challenge. Additional cost-cutting elements, including raising the retirement age, are being negotiated.

Unions oppose the deal. They say they weren't consulted about the plan and that they think elements of it are unconstitutional. Illinois pension problem, deemed the nation's worst, comes from years of lawmakers shorting or skipping required payments to its pension systems.

"With the leaders behind this scheme, it will take everything we've got to stop it," the coalition tells union members in its email, which was provided to The Associated Press. "It's also likely that leaders will unveil their scheme quickly and try to jam it through the House and Senate without enough time for open hearings or public review.

A top aide to House Speaker Michael Madigan told Illinois lawmakers last week to be ready for a special session in Springfield beginning Dec. 3. Chief of Staff Tim Mapes also asked them to "keep other days that week available." Alerts to other caucuses followed.

"They will be hearing from us very strongly between now and when they convene and well after that," Charlie McBarron of the Illinois Education Association told the AP. "Our members are highly focused on this."

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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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