February 25, 2013

SUAA Aims to Help University Employees, As Well As Retirees

By Lucia Gonzalez
THE STATE Universities Annuitants Association (SUAA) was founded in 1971 to advocate for current employees, retirees, their spouses, and their survivors who either are or will be receiving benefits from the State Universities Retirement System (SURS). Advocacy includes earned pension, healthcare benefits, and issues related to higher education, as well as promotion of the general well-being of the 208,000 SURS participants and beneficiaries.

SURS IS a pension system that is regulated by the State Legislature, State statutes, and laws. The pension system cannot advocate on behalf of its members, however it does work to provide clarification and technical support to policymakers, such as members of the General Assembly, the Governor, and others. Therefore, “SUAA works closely with SURS so that we can advocate effectively on behalf of the individuals,” said Linda Brookhart, executive director of the SUAA.

MEMBERS OF SUAA are represented by those who are currently working for, as well as those who are retired from, community colleges and State-supported universities such as UIC. If someone is a member, participant in, or beneficiary of a pension from SURS, then he or she can join the SUAA.

“MEMBERSHIP IS quite diverse as SUAA represents everyone from Civil Service employees through administration,” Brookhart explained. “Those who have chosen careers as lawn maintenance personnel, cooks, faculty administrators, presidents— everyone is included in SUAA’s representation.”

SUAA continually keeps its members updated as to legislation that would affect them. SUAA advocates on all employees’ behalf to represent them at the Capitol. SUAA is “not to be confused with a union’s presence,” Brookhart said. “Our message and our lobbying tactics tend to be much different, and our approach is also distinctive.”

SUAA believes that most of the adverse State legislation is aimed at those who are currently working.  It began particularly for those employees who were hired after January 1, 2011. “Legislation will need to be passed to correct the wrongs of their current benefits, which do not equal Social Security benefits,” Brookhart said of the more recent hires, whose benefits are lesser than those of University employees hired in 2010 and before.

SENATE BILL 1, which currently is in the Senate Executive Committee, if enacted into law would cause those who are currently working to decide between access to health insurance but a cut of 50% of retiree Cost of Living Allocation (COLA) or a cut based on the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less, at a simple interest; or the current 3% COLA, but with no access to State-funded health insurance. If someone chooses the 3% COLA, then no raises while employed would count toward his or her pension allocation. If a person chooses health insurance and half of the COLA (or Consumer Price Index figure), then raises would be counted toward pension allocation. 

“THESE ARE tough choices, especially if such legislation were found to be constitutional,” explained Brookhart. “There is no incentive to continue to work at a community college or State- funded university. People who can make choices as to where to work will find private sector employment more inviting than public sector employment.”

LEGISLATION TO abolish tuition waivers for employee dependents also has been introduced--again. “During the past several years, SUAA has been instrumental in defeating these legislative proposals,” Brookhart said. “SUAA became the voice in the Capitol for those who are currently working.” 

EMPLOYEES WHO would like to join the SUAA should visit www.suaa.org for more information. The dues for UIC are $39, $9 of which are allocated to the UIC Chapter and $31 to the State SUAA office. Employees can have payroll deductions, pay by check, or go on-line to the SUAA website to pay by credit card. 

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