There's only two weeks left until the end of the state's legislative session but many local teachers are prepared to hold lawmakers after school until they find an alternative to Gov. Pat Quinn's pension reform proposal.
Between 150 and 175 teachers and other labor supporters gathered Thursday afternoon at Naperville's Free Speech Pavilion along the Riverwalk to protest the proposal that would increase the retirement age to 67 and force them to sacrifice take-home pay to fund an increased percentage to the state's pension obligation, which is owed about $44 billion.
Thursday's rally and protest, organized by Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice and Educators United for Strong Public Schools, targeted Naperville Republican Rep. Darlene Senger, who is part of the governor's working group focused on pension reforms. Her office, though empty after 4 p.m., also sits just across the bridge from the pavilion.
"The reason we came here today is because for the last 40-some years, Springfield has failed to fund teachers' pensions and now, they're proposing more cuts," said John Laesch, spokesman for Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice. "They're asking teachers to make concessions and we think that after 40-some years, it's about time the educators, the Naperville community and people across the state of Illinois stand up for teachers and demand pension funding now.
"We didn't come here to say 'Stop the cuts.' We came here to say 'Pension funding now.'"
Teacher supporters offered three of their own solutions they say would keep the state's hands off their pensions.
They suggest adopting a $1 "speculation tax" on all transactions at the Chicago Board of Options Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. They also call for the elimination of tax subsidies for corporations and the implementation of a graduated income tax model similar to the one in place in Iowa.
Retired West Aurora District 129 teacher Joni Lindgren said she believes the focus must be on corporations.
"If you don't remember anything I've said today, I want you to remember one thing," Lindgren said. "Public corporations and private corporations are cannibalizing our economy and they are defining our futures."
Reached in Springfield Thursday afternoon, Senger said teachers have been ringing her phone off the hook and filling her email. The pension reform work group, she said, is meeting at least one more time and expects to present a bill next week, after the legislature tackles health care for the session
"The devil is in the details of how this thing is going to work so I don't how these folks are protesting something that doesn't exist yet," Senger said. "Nothing is on paper yet so all these people protesting, really don't know what they're protesting at this point."
They believe they do, though, and they left 135 signatures outside her Water Street office to convince her they do.