Preckwinkle: Lawmakers ‘remarkably receptive’ on Cook County plan

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SPRINGFIELD — After a day of lobbying lawmakers, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Thursday she expects the county’s pension bill would be called for a vote sometime next week.

Preckwinkle could be seen crisscrossing Capitol steps, in and out of member offices and statehouse elevators, pitching her plan to fund public pension funds – a proposal that has support from some major unions but has drawn the ire of Cook County hospital workers. 

“It looks like we might have a bill before the (Legislature) next week,” Preckwinkle told Early & Often. “We’re looking for support all over the state…I think people have been remarkably receptive and I’m grateful for it.”

“Basically we’re making the case for our bill and our issue. We’ve been meeting with our unions for two years. We have the support of Teamsters, our largest union. They took a vote, 68 percent of members in favor,” Preckwinkle said. 

She described SEIU’s support as “strong,” added that the trade unions back the plan but conceded that AFSCME and nurses are opposed.

Generally speaking, the county proposal will lengthen the number of years employees must work; reduce cost-of-living pay increases for future retirees; and require employees to pay more into the pension fund.

While workers will have to pay more, those who were hired by the county before 2010 will still be eligible for compounding cost-of-living increases — a detail pension hawks have criticized. Workers will also receive increased medical benefits, according to an outline of the plan. 

Hospital staffers protested Preckwinkle’s proposal on Wednesday, saying that the proposed reduction in benefits would discourage experienced doctors, nurses and support staff from continuing to work at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County. The hospital treats many low-income patients and many decided against higher pay elsewhere because they care about social justice, the workers said. 

Preckwinkle said she met with both Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.

“I plan to support her bill, and I think she’s got a good chance to pass the bill,” Madigan said Thursday. “It’s another pension proposal from a local government, where a local government has examined the condition of its pension system, come to the opinion that it’s in trouble financially and came down to the legislature with a stabilization plan. It’s little different that what we did for the Chicago park district, the Cook county reclamation district and the two systems for the city of Chicago.”

This is the first time this session Preckwinkle has been down to Springfield, she said.

That is one more time than Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature on his pension bill. 

Madigan said he didn’t receive any signals from Quinn but said this: “I certainly think he ought to sign the bill. He ought to sign the city pension bill. He signed the state pension bill. He ought to sign the city pension bill.”

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