News Local/State

Union Brings Another Pension Lawsuit: How It’s Different Than The Others

Legislators and union leaders negotiating in a conference room

Legislators and unions spent years negotiating various pension measures. Amanda Vinicky/IPR

Another lawsuit over a pension law was filed this week in Illinois, this time seeking to strike a law that reduced Chicago Park District pensions. That could be significant for other local governments, and future negotiations.

When it first passed, the park district pension law was seen as a possible model for future ones, in part because it had been drafted in cooperation with SEIU, the union representing park district workers.

"We were in total agreement with the changes to current employees and future employees. And obviously something has to be done. We know that. Something has to be done in order for a pension to be there, 20 or 30 years from now, or even I believe they were going to be insolvent in 15, 20 years," SEIU spokesman Adam Rosen says.

That agreement somewhat fell apart when at the last minute, when legislators added a provision that cut how much already-retired workers would get in future pension payouts.

"When you include things blatantly unconstitutional, it sets a different standard of: what happened to negotiating? This wasn’t agreed upon and you can’t just slip it in at the last minute. We’re going to fight it and we believe we’ll win," Rosen said.

Rosen says the union waited to sue to see how other cases turned out -- and has them on its side. In May, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a massive law that would've reduced teachers' and state workers' retirement benefits. The state's high court is set to hear arguments this fall on a law affecting city of Chicago employees' pensions.

Municipalities statewide say they're struggling with pension costs.

This lawsuit is yet another sign of the trouble Illinois lawmakers face as they seek to both decrease governments' pension costs, and to bulk up the emaciated funds.

A call to the Chicago Park District seeking comment went unreturned.