A union lobbyist who worked just one day as a substitute teacher is entitled to a pension worth potentially tens of thousands of dollars annually, the Illinois supreme court has ruled.
The 4-3 decision affected just one member of the Teachers’ Retirement System but solidified the high court’s previous finding that public-pension benefits are guaranteed under the state constitution. It’s an opinion that has flummoxed lawmakers attempting to close a $134 billion shortfall in the cash-strapped state’s pension systems.
David Piccioli was a lobbyist for the Illinois Federation of Teachers from 1997 to 2012. A 2007 law allowed officers of the IFT and the Illinois Education Association to receive teachers’ pensions for service in the union by qualifying for a teacher’s certificate, working in a classroom, and paying past-owed employee contributions with interest.
Piccioli earned a certificate, worked as a substitute teacher in a Springfield elementary school for one day in January 2007, and paid $193,000 to the retirement system for contributions he owed for the previous 10 years, qualifying him for the pension.
Justice Anne Burke, writing for the majority, said the fact that the legislature reversed the law in 2012 was immaterial. The constitution bars action that would cause established pensions to be “diminished or impaired,” and Piccioli followed the law as it stood.
A version of this article appeared in the April 17, 2019 edition of Education Week as Illinois High Court Backs Pension For One-Day Teacher Substitute