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Pension Reform Pushes State Workers Into Early Retirement

Updated: Wednesday, May 7 2014, 03:54 PM CDT

ILLINOIS -- Pension reform. The new law, which is set to take effect in less than two months, could cause a shake-up in much of the public sector.

"I'm enraged. I hadn't intended to retire this soon. I have research projects still to go. I have a course that I was planning on developing," UIS computer science instructor Mary Sheila Tracey said.

Tracey has been working at the University of Illinois Springfield for more than 30 years. She's been teaching computer science at UIS for the last 15 years. But the major changes to the state's pension system looming ahead caused her to make a major decision.

"So it's just a matter of, you know, how much stress am I willing to put up with in order to, you know, survive long enough to retire?," Tracey said.

The new pension reform law, which would cut benefits in one way or another for most state workers, goes into effect June 1st. But a cluster of lawsuits regarding the legislation's constitutionality have yet to be ruled on in the State Supreme Court.

That means people like Tracey are left to roll the dice.

"Everyone's just worried, 'If i don't retire now what am I going to have to live with as dictated by the legislature?,'" Tracey said.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- or AFSCME-- is urging the Supreme Court to delay the date the law is set to go into effect until there's a verdict on whether it's constitutional.

"Nobody has a crystal ball and is able to [know] how the court's going to rule. We're very hopeful it will be overturned but, you know, there's no certainty at all," AFSCME Regional Director Kent Beauchamp said.

Beauchamp says the union isn't directing people to retire or wait it out because each situation is different. He says it all depends on an employee's age, how long they've been paying into the system and how much they make.

Meanwhile, Tracey says at least six other faculty members at UIS are following her lead and retiring early. Something she says could drastically change the face of education in this area.

"What the legislature is doing is taking the faculty who have the longest tenure here, you know our great teachers [...] the true craftsmen in education, and turning them out," Tracey said.

Teachers are not the only group of public workers effected by the pension reform law. Several industries in the public sector are bracing for some sort of mass exodus.

Meanwhile, there's no word on when the Supreme Court will make a ruling on the law's constitutionality but the unions don't anticipate that decision to come down until after June 1st.

Pension reform was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn in December. Supporters of the initiative say it will eliminate the system's unfunded liability by 2044.

Pension Reform Pushes State Workers Into Early Retirement

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