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Picketers target Tracy's office over pension bill

Protesters leave the Quincy office of state Rep. Jil Tracy after telling Tracy's staff abou their displeasure concerning Tracy's support of a pension reform bill. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Dec. 3, 2013 7:51 am Updated: Dec. 17, 2013 8:15 am

By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Teachers and state workers picketed Monday against a proposed pension reform deal that could pass the Illinois General Assembly today.

Representatives from the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees were outside the Quincy office of state Rep. Jil Tracy as part of a series of statewide protests.

Ellington School teacher Jan Zeidler, who was holding a picket sign and donning a "Pension Rescue Squad" pin, said she fears proposed pension changes will negatively affect people entering the teaching profession.

"It could be a real deterrent if new teachers find out there really isn't a retirement plan or it has been significantly reduced," she said.

The proposal would push back the retirement age for workers 45 and younger on a sliding scale. Annual 3 percent cost-of-living increases for retirees would be replaced with a system that only provides increases on a portion of benefits, based on how many years the retiree was in their job. It would also look to end many "pension abuses" in the plans.

The proposal is estimated to save the state $160 billion over 30 years. Illinois has the worst-funded pension system in the nation.

The picketers entered Tracy's office to express their views to her staff.

Tracy was in Springfield Monday for the special session and signed off on the pension measure, as did a majority of the 10-member conference committee that was tasked with developing a pension plan.

Lawmakers are expected to bring up the bill today in special session.

Retired teacher Janet Waterkotte believes the proposal is unconstitutional.

"The state constitution says the benefits of retirees should not be changed," she said.

Waterkotte said lawmakers should consider other legislation that was previously approved by the Senate. The bill would have given state workers a choice of options, rather than changing terms of retirement without those considerations. It was never brought up for a vote in the House.

The unions, which had negotiated the bill, agreed to not seek legal action against the other plan -- something that is likely under the current plan.

"We've made our commitment," Zeidler said. "It's very unfortunate that this state hasn't held up their part of the bargain. They've used our money for other things in the state."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

-- mhopf@whig.com/221-3391