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Editorial: Police sergeants blew chance at fair contract

Sun-Times Library

Sun-Times Library

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Updated: April 21, 2013 6:33AM

We are not Detroit.

Neither Chicago nor Illinois face imminent financial collapse like the Motor City, despite gargantuan pension debt that is dragging down our governments and squeezing spending on every service.

But we aren’t far behind. The debilitating head-in-the-sand mentality that contributed to bringing Detroit to the brink of bankruptcy is rampant here in Illinois.

The most recent, maddening example came last week when the Chicago police sergeants’ union rejected a fair contract proposal that would have cut pension costs in a meaningful way.

A public labor union had finally helped shape the inevitable: reduced pension benefits. A deal reached between the union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel could have helped save the Chicago Police pension fund, which is a measly 32 percent funded.

Instead of bludgeoning sergeants’ pensions, the deal would have cut — inflicting some pain, no doubt — in a careful way. Instead of freezing cost-of-living increases for 10 years, as Emanuel first proposed, this deal would have reduced the COLA slightly for current retirees but only suspended it every other year for three years.

The head of the union had in good conscience urged his members to say yes. In exchange for a 9 percent pay raise over four years, the deal included: boosting the retirement age to 53, increasing employee contributions by 3 percent, and hiking health care contributions for new retirees.

But Chicago sergeants were duped by the head of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents most of the Police Department. He used every imaginable scare tactic to persuade sergeants to vote no.

Public unions say they want pension reform done with them, not to them. We now see how well that turns out.

Next stop is the state Capitol, where legislators can change public employee pensions without union negotiations. No need to wait for another negotiations flop.

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