CFL News
May 10, 2012

Letter to the Editor: A preposterous pension plan

The President of the Chicago Firefighters Union responds to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pension proposal to limit benefits for retirees

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

By Tom Ryan

I am writing in response to the May 8 editorial and the column heralding Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s preposterous new pension “plan.” The only words that come to mind after reading this report are …….. How Dare You!

How dare anyone suggest that retired public servants who are living modestly on a fixed income be threatened with a drastic reduction in their earned retirement security in order to fix a problem they had no hand in creating? Most of these individuals do not receive Social Security and depend solely on their pension incomes. They faithfully paid every cent of their pension obligations throughout their careers so that one day, when they could no longer perform their duties, they would be able to live out their remaining years with dignity.

We currently have over 500 firefighter widows living on less than $1,000 a month, a figure that by today’s standards means their annual income falls below the poverty line.

As for the mayor’s example of a 1995 retiree now making over $100,000 in pension benefits, I cannot find anyone in the Chicago Firefighters Union bargaining unit who retired in 1995 who receives $100,000 in pension benefits. Our rank-and-file members retire with far less pension income than was portrayed.

Mayor Emanuel correctly admitted that the city failed in its own responsibility to pay their portion of these pension contributions for decades. Yet, in the same breath, he insinuates that the only way to avert a fatal pension fund collapse, without receiving major concessions from those who already have paid their fair share, is to more than double Chicago’s property taxes. Raising property taxes is not the only option to shore up these funding levels, and many ideas have already been floated on how we can improve the funding ratios of all our pension funds. We know that a problem exists and realize a solution is necessary, but scare tactics are not the answer. In addition, the constitutionality of the mayor’s suggestions will also come into question and may need to be decided by the courts.

The mayor and others have often stated that it will take “shared sacrifice” to bring city pension funds to an acceptable funding status. But as I see it, by proposing the elimination or reduction of cost-of-living adjustments for current retirees, they are asking those who are most vulnerable and who have based the remainder of their lives on what was promised to them, to shoulder the bulk of this sacrifice. Our current and future retirees did not create this mess, but they are the ones now being asked to fix it.

Tom Ryan, presidentChicago Firefighters Union Local 2