During the summer, IEA leaders and staff have been defending our members’ pensions by making sure that the half-truths and outright lies that are told about pensions and benefits are countered by the facts. Surprisingly, one way we’ve been doing that is by participating in events organized by a group diametrically opposed to our goals.
The Illinois Policy Institute is an anti-tax/anti-union organization focused on eliminating defined benefit (traditional) pensions for public employees in Illinois. For the last few years, the organization has devoted significant resources to publicizing its “reports” on public employee pensions, presenting data that purport to show that pensions are the cause for the state budget crisis. The policy institute claims that only by cutting pension benefits can the state become financially solvent.
The organization’s success in getting the news media to cover these biased and misleading reports is largely due to the decline of the traditional news media. Newspapers in particular, are operating with inadequate numbers of experienced reporters and editors and, in too many cases, no longer scrutinize reports from self-proclaimed “watchdog” groups.
The “Local Pension Accountability” forums
In July, we learned the policy institute was about to begin a series of public forums throughout the state to drum up support for the proposal that the state’s responsibility for making pension payments on behalf of TRS participants should be turned over to local school districts. This “cost shift” proposal is found in legislation pending in the General Assembly and is backed by Gov. Quinn, House Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton.
IEA opposes the cost shift as proposed. We’re fighting to stop these bad pension bills.
Last month, we learned that the policy institute was robo-calling residents in Springfield to invite them to the first in a series of forums on the cost shift. We felt it was important that our members have a voice at these highly-publicized meetings and we decided to participate in them. How can such an important matter that could have such a tremendous impact on our members — both personally and professionally — not have input from them?
As of this writing, IEA has sent representatives to four forums. IFT represented teachers at a fifth. Going forward, it is intended that IEA or IFT will participate in all forums.
So far, forums have been conducted in Springfield, Carbondale, Quincy, Lemont and Decatur.
Other forums are scheduled for:
- Aug. 14 in Crystal Lake (formerly Cary), McHenry County College auditorium, 7-8:30 p.m.
- Sept. 10 in Skokie, tentatively scheduled for Niles North, 7-8:30 p.m.
- Sept. 13 in Kane County, location to be determined, 7-8:30 p.m.
- Sept. 25 in Rockford, tentatively scheduled for Auburn High School, 7-8:30 p.m.
It’s been our experience that we achieve the best results for IEA members and our students when we are “in the room” when important issues impacting education are being discussed. These discussions always benefit when the perspectives of our members, as well as appropriate facts, are shared.
By being on these panels, attendees at these forums are hearing our side of the story, and that can make a big difference.
For example, at the beginning of the Springfield forum, attendees were asked to vote on whether they supported the cost shift. Then, after 90 minutes of discussion, they were asked to vote again.
Be the end of the forum, the audience had shifted significantly away from the cost shift and toward the IEA position of opposition.
I hope you’ll consider attending one of these forums. It’s important that our faces are seen and our voices are heard. It also is crucial that we understand what our opponents think and say if we expect to live up to the IEA Mission, “… to effect excellence and equity in public education and to be THE advocacy organization for all public education employees.”