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The Chicago Teachers Union won a powerful victory in November when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution’s pension clause protects the pension benefits of dozens of teachers and PSRPs who have dedicated years to supporting rank-and-file members as CTU staff. Union officers particularly recognize CTU teacher field representative Zeidre Foster, and retired field representatives June Davis and Anthony Lopez, who were named plaintiffs in the successful lawsuit that challenged this attack on pensions.

In 2012, the Illinois General Assembly passed Public Act 97-0651, which severely and retroactively restricted members’ rights to earn Chicago Teachers Pension Fund (CTPF) or Municipal Employee Annuity and Benefits Fund (MEABF) pension credit during leaves of absence to serve as CTU officers or staff. This was the first of several laws passed to cut public employee pensions.

That 2012 law eliminated the right for CTPF and MEABF members to earn credit toward their pensions while working for the CTU if their leaves of absence began after January 5, 2012. This cut has already impacted individuals who have taken leaves from their school positions to serve as CTU officers or staff since January 5, 2012. In addition, for PSRPs and other MEABF participants, the 2012 law eliminated the right they had for decades to a pension based on their CTU salary.

Also in 2012, the MEABF told the CTU’s MEABF members that if they had participated in one of the Union’s defined contribution plans, they could not receive any service credit toward their pensions during their leaves of absence—wiping out decades of pension service credit for some of the most senior members just as they were trying to retire.

The CTU and individual plaintiffs Davis, Foster and Lopez filed suit challenging the 2012 pension cuts as unconstitutional and the MEABF’s new position regarding the CTU-defined contribution plan as contrary to the Illinois Pension Code statutes.

Last November, after a six-year legal battle, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor on every single issue.

The Court held that all CTPF and MEABF participants who began work for the Board of Education before January 5, 2012, have a constitutional right to continue to earn credit toward their pensions while on leave working for the CTU—even if their leaves of absence began after January 5, 2012.

The Court also held that MEABF members such as PSRPs have a constitutional right to have their pensions based on the CTU salaries they earned during their leaves of absence.

Finally, the Court held that the Union’s MEABF members had a right to their service credit from working at the CTU even though they participated in the CTU-defined contribution plan.

This victory saves the pensions of members who’ve dedicated years—or decades—of their lives to serving their colleagues as CTU leaders. It also protects the rights of new leaders to step up and serve rank-and-file members as officers or staff without having to sacrifice their retirement security.

Congratulations to everyone who made this win possible.

Jesse Sharkey is the CTU president.

This article appears in the January 2019 issue of the Chicago Union Teacher.