In 2011, the Chicago Tribune exposed a pair of Illinois teacher union lobbyists, Stephen Preckwinkle and David Piccioli, who substitute taught for one day and stood to collect nearly $1 million in state teacher retirement pensions from a severely underfunded system.
The five Illinois pension systems have a $100 billion liability and the teachers fund may run out of money as early as 2029. Newspaper editorials, elected officials, the governor and citizens cried foul. Legislation was quickly passed to stop the abuse.
When Gov. Pat Quinn signed the pension “reform” legislation into law on January 5, 2012, he said. “The pension abuses unearthed were flagrant. They needed to be stopped immediately and prevented from ever happening in the future.”
Mission accomplished, or so it seemed.
Even though all Illinois citizens were led to believe that the pension abusers had been stopped, within twenty-four months after the “reform” legislation passed, the union lobbyists retired and received their lifetime Illinois state teacher pensions.
Even in Illinois, how this could have happened? The governor and the entire statewide media and political class took credit for stopping these abuses in late 2011 through January 2012.
A couple of weeks ago, we spotted Preckwinkle and Piccioli within a long list of 30 state retirees from the Illinois Federation of Teachers (private sector teachers union). Sure enough, in 2014, Piccioli is receiving $30,564 and Preckwinkle $37,416 pensions (click here for their life expectancy pension payouts of nearly $1 million each). The experience was a bit overwhelming, even for our seasoned team of forensic investigators.
In order to understand this massive pension “reform misunderstanding,” we questioned the Public Relations Spokesman for the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) David Urbanek, who explained:
“Mr. Preckwinkle and Mr. Piccioli received a TRS pension following the enactment of House Bill 3813 because House Bill 3813, now Public Act 97-0651, did not stop them from collecting a TRS pension.” Read entire email response
The legislature had passed – and the governor had signed – reform legislation stopping the abuse. Newspapers, elected officials and the governor all pounded their chests. The political elites told all the rest of us that a gross injustice had been reversed.
But the injustice was not reversed, just modified on a go forward basis.
Sadly, these cases represent a systematic problem. The Washington Times recently ran a story based on data collected at OpenTheBooks.com exposing 40 private sector union leaders from the National Education Association, Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers who cleaned out $5,000,000 a year in Illinois teacher pensions.
Data at OpenTheBooks.com shows that twenty-four of those union employees have already collected more than $1 million in retirement pensions. Because the union is a private sector employer, taxpayers have no say in the active salaries awarded to the union employees, but guarantee funding for the lifetime pension payouts.
Rank and file teachers in Illinois, many of whom are union members, should be outraged that their union leadership is draining pension dollars from their underfunded retirement plan.
Sadly, pension abuses and shortfalls aren’t unique to Illinois. States across America should heed this cautionary tale. All too often the union call for “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work” is leveraged for a lifetime of largess.
Notice: Adam Andrzejewski is the founder of OpenTheBooks.com a project of American Transparency 501(c)3.