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Unions Sue Illinois Government for 'Pension Theft'

Coalition says lawmakers violated state constitution by cutting pensions already promised to workers

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

In this Aug. 15, 2012 photo, state union members, supporters and labor leaders protest Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and pension expense legislation on Governor's Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Ill. (Photo: AP/Seth Perlman)A coalition of labor unions sued the government of Illinois Tuesday for mass "pension theft" that it says violates the state's constitution.

In a 55-page complaint delivered to Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield, plaintiffs with the We Are One Illinois coalition — whose members include the Illinois AFL-CIO, Illinois Federation of Teachers, and Illinois Education Association — demand an overthrow of the pension-gutting Senate Bill 1 that passed over a month ago upon approval by the Democrat-led legislature and democratic Governor Pat Quinn.

The controversial law raises the retirement age for workers 45 years old and younger, shrinks collective bargaining rights, reduces cost-of-living raises for retirees, and weakens the pension system for state workers. The result is a massive slash to pensions that will affect hundreds of thousands of present and future government retirees — including teachers, nurses, and caregivers.

We Are One Illinois charges this law violates the state's constitution, which stipulates that a public worker's pension is a "contract that the state cannot diminish or impair," according to an organizational statement.

The organization urges the court to prevent the law from being implemented until the lawsuit is decided.

“Our suit makes clear that pension theft is not only unfair, it’s clearly unconstitutional,” said Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan of Tuesday's court filing. “Teachers, nurses, emergency responders, and other workers and retirees will not stand by while politicians try to take away their life savings illegally."

Tuesday's lawsuit is just one of several levied since the law passed.

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