SPRINGFIELD — When Illinois' coalition of labor unions sued over the state's recent pension reforms, big public sector unions pointed to several current and retired workers as victims of the modest reforms.
But a joint review by Illinois Watchdog and For the Good of Illinois of the salary and pensions shows these workers are anything but victims.
"The people in the private sector just cannot match the salaries, the (perks) and the benefit packages offered by government," said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of For the Good of Illinois and its website OpenTheBooks.com.
One teacher cited in the lawsuit, David Behymer, retired in 2007 and contributed $65,821 toward his pension during his career at the West Prairie school district in western Illinois. In 2007 (the last year in which For the Good of Illinois researchers could find data), Beyhmer began receiving monthly pension payments of $2,908.
At that rate Behymer got back his $65,821 by the middle of 2009. He doubled his money by 2011.
"A business cannot buy the pension plan like what our public employees have given to them and guaranteed by taxpayers," Andrzejewski said. "At any price, this is not for sale for a private company. It is that lucrative."
The pension numbers are just as lucrative for retired teacher Elaine Ferguson.
When Ferguson retired from the Nauvoo-Colusa school district, For the Good of Illinois researchers found she had contributed $61,851 toward her pension in 2005.
That same year, the numbers show Ferguson began receiving monthly pension payments of $3,017.
Again at that rate, Ferguson was paid back her $61,851 in just more than 20 months. Ferguson doubled her pension contributions within 40 months.
"It used to be that you went to work for government, the mental contract was, you'd make less on salary … but you stayed there on the promise of a gold plated pension plan," Andrzjewski said.
Now, many public employees earn fat salaries too.
"There's 47 cities and village managers in Illinois that out-earn every governor in the United States, and 407 school administrators that earn more than $180,000 a year."
Illinois' coalition of labor unions, the We are One Illinois Coalition, filed a massive lawsuit in Springfield earlier this week claiming Illinois lawmakers violated the state constitution by ending the 3 percent compounding cost-of-living adjustment. (New cost-of-living increases would be tied to inflation.)
The unions cite more than two dozen current and retired public employees in their suit. Illinois Watchdog and For the Good of Illinois researched all of those named in the union lawsuit, but couldn't find information on each one.
Andrzejewski said even looking at only basic salary and pension information for some of the workers the facts are clear.
"We need to fundamentally bring reforms to these systems," Andrzejewski said. "Public sector government workers should not have a deal that is not available to workers in the private sector — all the taxpayers who have to pay the bill."