Protesters Greet State Legislators Before Pontiac Prison Tour

Published 02/24 2014 05:11PM

Updated 02/24 2014 08:14PM

PONTIAC - Springfield's newest group of legislators thought Monday was going to be about touring Pontiac's maximum security corrections facility.

"It's a great opportunity for my colleagues to see what goes on inside the walls, knowing that we take a number of votes in Springfield that will affect those things," said state senator Jason Barickman.

Before they got through the door, though, they saw a group of protesters, rallying together to keep their pension money in place.

"We're not asking for the moon. We're asking for what we've already worked for, what we've earned,” said protester Joe Lewis. “It's in the past, they owe us that money."

Local unions say Governor Pat Quinn's pension overhaul plan, designed to save billions of dollars, isn't fair. They argue pension benefits can't be cut.

But state lawmakers say workers need to consider the taxpayers, or the budget problem will only get worse, at both the state and local levels.

"Unless we change something now, we are not going to create a better climate for our businesses to succeed and we're certainly going to put those pensions at further risk, and we don't want to do that," said state representative Jeanne Ives.

Lewis, a worker at the Pontiac Correctional Facility for 10 years, says his job is not something he can do forever. He's counting on his pension to help him after he's done working.

"Imagine working with 20 year old criminals when you're 75. I don't think you'd want to do that, and I guarantee you, they don't want to do that."

And as they wait on the final ruling from the courts, lawmakers say these protesters have given them something to think about.

"When people picket, I think it certainly impacts legislators because it reminds you that there's a human element to every vote that we take, and this one... it's a very real human element,” said Barickman.

Governor Quinn’s pension plan is scheduled to take effect on June 1, but it's being challenged in court.

Last march, the prison in Dwight was closed and its prisoners relocated to Lincoln. It was part of Quinn's plan to save the state millions of dollars each year.

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