State Employees Retire Due to Pension Changes

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By Fanna Haile-Selassie
By Randy Livingston

CARBONDALE -- Illinois s seeing fall out from pension reform with hundreds of state workers retiring this spring. The State Employee Retirement System says as of this week 1,100 Illinois workers have given their notice. Many are stepping down to avoid pension changes that take effect in June.

SIU is among the places feeling the impact. As of  Friday, 148 faculty and staff have announced their retirements at the end of the semester, and the SIU administration anticipates many more notices in the next few weeks.
     
"We're anticipating a significant number of retirements, in part, because of the glitch in the state employee retiree system law," says SIU Spokesperson Rae Goldsmith.
 
When lawmakers passed the pension overhaul bill in December, there was an incorrect date that inadvertently takes away a year of pension benefits for many of the longest-employed university faculty and staff. Unless they retire before the law takes effect.
 
"They will have an impact, that's a loss of great institutional knowledge. But we'll move forward strategically to fill those positions as we can," explains Goldsmith.
 
It's not just university employees leaving.
 
"I can tell you just anecdotally, we're hearing it everywhere," says AFSCME Regional Director Eddie Caumiant.
     
He says hundreds are putting in their notices now, before their pension benefits are drastically changed. The new law reduces cost of living increases and raises the retirement age, among other changes.
 
"You're talking about a person having to contemplate being a correctional officer at the age of 67. I mean that's hard to consider, so I know that's part of it," says Caumiant.
 
AFSCME members want the law's effective date to be put off until the courts settle whether pension reform is constitutional. But state employees have to make their decisions with the information they currently have.
 
With SIU already down 500 faculty and staff since 2009, from previous cuts and retirements, officials say they are prepared to make some new hires.
 
"We will be moving forward to hire faculty because they're part of the academic mission of the university and it's important that we do so," says Goldsmith.
 
The new pension law is set to take effect June 1st, but state employees have until June 30th to give their retirement notice. A bill to fix the incorrect pension date was just filed on Tuesday. The state legislature has four more weeks to consider the bill until the spring session ends.
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