Scolding his union allies, House Speaker Michael Madigan on Wednesday rejected a push by organized labor for a "summit" to talk about pension reform, saying the unions' request was "not timely."
The biting, two-page letter to Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan carried a stern tone and accused labor of offering "no cooperation" on the pension front or on other financial pressures facing the state.
The timing of the Madigan letter coincides with last week's downgrade of the state's credit rating. Illinois now is considered by Standard & Poor's to be the least credit-worthy state in the country. That action factored into Gov. Pat Quinn's decision Wednesday to pull the plug on a $500 million bond issue.
In his open letter, Madigan jabbed Carrigan and the labor leader's call for a Feb. 11 pension summit with Quinn and legislative leaders and took particular umbrage at the unions' notion that "pension reforms faltered because the concerns of labor were not considered."
"In my view, the positions of organized labor were taken into account during the 2012 legislative session. I recall no fewer than eight high-level meetings that took place with labor, legislative leaders and the governor," wrote Madigan, who also is chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
"At that time, I felt there was little willingness from representatives of labor to draft a comprehensive, common-sense solution," he said.
Madigan went on to point out that government workers in Illinois have the fourth-highest state worker pay among the 12 most populous states, and that public employees here pay "significantly less for their insurance premiums than those in the private sector."
"It is time for labor to come to the table with an honest proposal that recognizes the state's serious fiscal condition and puts government employees on par with those in the private sector relative to a benefits package," Madigan wrote.
In an understated rebuttal to the speaker, Carrigan expressed "regrets" at Madigan's unwillingness to participate in a pension summit and pointed to a union plan already on the table that would increase employee pension contributions, cut corporate tax breaks and guarantee no future shortchanging by the state in required contributions to the pension systems. That plan also had the potential to avert a protracted legal battle, he said.
Carrigan's harshest language for the speaker was directed at his assault on the salaries and benefits Illinois' public workers now get.
"We were particularly surprised and disappointed that the speaker singled out state employees from our coalition — which includes teachers, police, fire fighters, nurses, caregivers and many others — and decried their efforts to maintain decent wages and affordable health care," Carrigan said.