Steven Preckwinkle, the political director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and fellow union lobbyist David Piccioli were the only people who took advantage of a small window opened by lawmakers a few months earlier.
Preckwinkle's one day of subbing qualified him to become a participant in the state teachers pension fund, allowing him to pick up 16 years of previous union work and nearly five more years since he joined. He's 59, and at age 60 he'll be eligible for a state pension based on the four-highest consecutive years of his last 10 years of work.
His paycheck fluctuates as a union lobbyist, but pension records show his earnings in the last school year were at least $245,000. Based on his salary history so far, he could earn a pension of about $108,000 a year, more than double what the average teacher receives.
His pay for one day as a substitute was $93, according to records of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System.
Over the course of their lifetimes, both men stand to receive more than a million dollars each from a state pension fund that has less than half of the assets it needs to cover promises made to tens of thousands of public school teachers. With billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System, which serves public school teachers outside of Chicago, is one of several pension plans that are in debt as state government reels in a fiscal crisis.
A spokesman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers emphasized that the lobbyists' actions were legal and that they made "individual decisions."
Even so, union President Dan Montgomery said the deal Preckwinkle and Piccioli landed "should never be allowed again." But the union, which provides its employees with a private 401(k)-type plan, is standing by the lobbyists' right to have access to the public pension.
"They entered TRS under the law and are participating members of TRS. As a TRS employer, the IFT is required to make the payments to TRS," the union said in a statement.
How did Preckwinkle and Piccioli become the only ones to take advantage of the change in law? Neither one consented to an interview.
Records, however, show that Preckwinkle applied for his first substitute teaching certificate four weeks before the legislation passed, then subbed at a Springfield school six weeks before the window to become eligible closed.
Preckwinkle even signed a witness slip in support of the legislation during a House committee meeting, although the teachers union says he lobbied for a different provision in the same bill, not the perk for union officials such as himself.
The revelation that one day of substitute teaching allowed officials from a state teachers union to tap into an ailing public pension fund is yet another example of how the Illinois pension system has been manipulated for political purposes and personal gain. A series of reports by the Tribune and WGN-TV have documented these pension games and how insiders have benefited.
Although the bill received bipartisan support, the benefit to union officials was sponsored by Springfield Democrats showered by IFT campaign contributions during the 2006 elections.
"The people that are on the inside and understand the process are going to be able to make the system work for their advantage," said Kent Redfield, who teaches political science at the University of Illinois Springfield. "That this legislation got a hearing and got considered and passed is a reflection of that close relationship between the IFT and the Democratic leadership.
"It feeds into the cynicism about all the deals, that it's an insider's game and that the system is rigged."
J. Fred Giertz, a University of Illinois economics professor and a trustee of the State Universities Retirement System, said teachers pensions for Preckwinkle and Piccioli undermine already meager public confidence in the state's retirement systems.
"It's outrageous," Giertz said. "The pension system was designed for schoolteachers and not for union employees to piggyback on at the end of their years."