June 27, 2013

Brenda Russell Becomes UIC United President; Fights to Protect Pensions

Brenda Russell, PhD, new President of UIC United, the UIC chapter of SURS,
and her husband, Jack Cooksey, MD.
By Lucia Gonzalez

BRENDA RUSSELL, Professor Emerita, Physiology and Biophysics, has been elected President of the UIC United chapter of the State University Annuitants Association (SUAA). This organization is for anyone who has ever paid into the State Universities Retirement System (SURS). The goals of UIC United are to push for fairness for UIC employees and retirees concerning retirement benefits, including taking legal action with coalition partners or independently when unconstitutional or adverse legislation is proposed that could diminish or impair promised benefits.
RUSSELL JOINED UIC United in hopes of protecting the pension plans of all UIC employees. She retired two years ago mainly to ensure her pension plan would be protected, as she did not trust the political system to protect her or other SURS members. “I am rehired to continue my NIH-funded research, so I see the current situation first hand,” explained Russell. “I am very concerned about the fiscal crisis in Illinois, with the resulting cuts to both higher education and the attack on State pensions.”

AT THE moment, UIC United is trying to give information to SURS members about their pensions and is encouraging everyone to contact his or her own Illinois Senator or Representative in the Illinois House. “We don’t tell people what to say,” Russell said, “but we do want them to express their opinion directly to their own elected officials. Future votes matter.”

RUSSELL HOPES there will be fairness for UIC employees. “The State employees should not be paying an unfair load for past fiscal mismanagement in Illinois, which now has the lowest credit rating of all 50 states,” Russell explained. Currently, $9 out of $10 of Illinois General Fund spending is going towards four core services: education, health care, human services, and public safety. “Spending on pensions may mean devastating cuts for our most basic public services,” Russell said. “I understand that is why some feel pensions should be targeted, but that’s the wrong solution. My own opinion is that the State needs to raise revenue because we cannot cut our way out of the fiscal mess without doing serious harm to the pensions and to UIC’s State funding.”

BESIDES PENSION cuts, health care is another major concern for SURS members. The Senate plan proposed by Senate President John Cullerton offers a potential choice between cost of living increases and health insurance for retirees. “Health care is a fast moving situation, especially as Obamacare will start January 2014,” Russell said, noting that the potential impact of this legislation is unclear at this point.

DURING A recent survey of UIC United members, it was reinforced that they wanted information that they can trust about pensions and benefits. “We are starting a quarterly newsletter and will have bulletins any time hot news or immediate action is required,” Russell announced. The events that UIC United holds will be focused on the pension issues.

IT IS important to note that the UIC United chapter of SUAA and the faculty union, also called “UIC United,” are not the same thing, she said. “Our word ‘united’ is to register the fact that we are uniting current employees and those who are retired,” explained Russell. Anyone who is an employee and is currently paying into SURS is eligible to join.

MEMBERSHIP IS easy as it takes five minutes and can be completed online. “Membership is affordable—it costs less than Netflix—and can be set up to be automatically deducted from your paycheck,” Russell said. One can join via the UIC United website, www.uic.edu/orgs/suaa/applicat.html. The application can be printed, completed, and mailed with a $42 check to the SUAA office. The application also can be completed online through the SUAA website, www.suaa.org.

TO CONTACT Russell directly with questions or to share concerns, e-mail Russell@uic.edu.

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