Coalition asks court to side with unions on pensions based on insurance decision

Scales of justiceCoalition urges court to consider significant Kanerva v. Weems decision, seek judgment in their favor

SPRINGFIELD – Yesterday, the We Are One Illinois coalition, along with other plaintiffs, filed a motion in Sangamon County urging the Circuit Court to enter judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor on the State’s affirmative defense in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Kanerva v. Weems. The We Are One Illinois coalition and other plaintiffs assert that the Kanerva decision confirms that the Pension Protection Clause in the Illinois Constitution is absolute and without exception, even with respect to the fiscal circumstances alleged by the State in its defense.

The following quote may be attributed to We Are One Illinois:

“The Kanerva decision confirms what we have always argued, that the state’s constitutional language guards against any diminishment or impairment of pension benefits that Senate Bill 1 imposes. We believe, then, that the State’s defense is without merit and so have asked the Court in this motion to rule in our favor on the State’s defense that seeks to justify Senate Bill 1.  We maintain that the constitution protects the hard-earned and promised retirement savings of our members and remain ready to work with any legislator willing to develop a fair and legal solution to our state’s challenges.”

In a decisive 6-1 vote this July, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in Kanerva v. Weems that the State’s provision of health insurance premium subsidies for retired state workers is a constitutionally protected pension benefit that the State is precluded from diminishing or impairing. The Court wrote:

“[I]t is clear that if something qualifies as a benefit of the enforceable contractual relationship resulting from membership in one of the State’s pension or retirement systems, it cannot be diminished or impaired … Giving the language of article XIII, section 5, its plain and ordinary meaning, all of these benefits, including subsidized health care, must be considered to be benefits of membership in a pension or retirement system of the State and, therefore, within that provision’s protections.”

The full motion can be found here.

Justice Charles Freeman, author of the Kanerva decision, noted:

“We may not rewrite the pension protection clause to include restrictions and limitations that the drafters did not express and the citizens of Illinois did not approve.”

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We are One Illinois is an unprecedented labor coalition working on behalf of over 1 million statewide members to protect public employee pensions. We Are One Illinois coalition members include the Illinois AFL-CIO, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, AFSCME Council 31, Illinois Police Benevolent and Protective Association, Fraternal Order of Police, Service Employees International Union, Laborers International Union of North America Midwest Region, Illinois Public Pension Fund Association, National Pension Coalition, United Transportation Union, Laborers International Union of North America – Chicago District Council, AFSCME International Union, National Education Association, Fraternal Order of Police – Lodge 7 Chicago, Fireman’s Association of Chicago – Local 2, Illinois Nurses Association, Teamsters Local 700, and Teamsters Joint Council 25.  http://www.weareoneillinois.org/