• OPEB Discussion

    The Michigan State Legislature is considering drastic changes to the health care of retired fire fighters. The package of bills that were introduced could leave those who served their communities with distinction without health care during their retirement – when they need it most. 

    These bills are unnecessary and contrary to those suggested by a non-partisan task force that the Governor appointed to look into the issue.  Added to already adopted changes to plan across the state and drastic changes like those being discussed are simple not needed.  The system that has worked for years is working and taking care of stabilizing itself---let it work.

    Changing retirements and retirement health care from Lansing ignores that local governments know what works best for them.  They control the pensions, yet the proposed legislation would allow the state to wrangle control away from local elected leaders and apply a one size fits all program.  That does nothing except inject politics into a retirement system that already works.  Keep retirements where they belong---under local control.

    Attracting and keeping the best and brightest fire fighters on the job is already a challenge. Politically driven changes like this package of bills make it harder to do that and that means direct impacts to the safety of your neighborhoods.

    Senate Bills 686-701 and House Bills 5298-5313 have a direct, negative impact on the retirements of fire fighters.  Fire fighters don’t get social security so they rely on this system for retirement and health care after they leave the fire stations.

    Help Protect Michigan Protectors---Vote No on Senate Bills 686-701 and House Bills 5298-5313

    OPEB/PENSION REFORM DISCUSSION

    • Communities across Michigan are dealing with their individual healthcare and pension liabilities.  They have done this in a variety of creative ways and doesn’t seem to be ONE right answer.
    • Communities have found unique solutions that work for their community.  Fire fighters and police officers have played a major role in helping communities ailing financial status through contract negotiations.
    • In February, Governor Snyder convened a Task Force to address unfunded long-term liabilities for retirees and local municipalities.  The task force was made up of 20 individuals representing labor, local governments, legislature, financial experts and the administration.
    • The task force developed a report which provides recommendations for local governments struggling with underfunded OPEB systems.
    • The final report was UNANIMOUSLY agreed upon by all participants.
    • Firefighters and police officers have given up pay increases and other benefits to maintain their retiree health care due to their exposure and risk they take providing emergency services to the public.
    • Do to the nature of our jobs, we retire in our early 50’s.  Most have chronic injuries, cardiac disease, PTSD and fire fighters have a 62% cancer rate due to our exposures throughout our career.
    • We have a 10-15 year gap before we can go on Medicare.  We would not have any healthcare right when we need it the most. Most do not qualify for social security and must rely totally on their pension and OPEB.
    • Fire and police departments are currently struggling to recruit and hire new employees.  If benefits continue to be reduced this will only get more challenging.
    • We know and accept the risk.  We just want to know that if we are injured from the risks we take that we have resources to take care of us and our families.

    COMMENTS from MPFFU PRESIDENT DOCHERTY
     

    Here we are again in Lansing at the Statehouse to have our voice heard by OUR REPRESENTATIVES.  This isn’t their first chance to hear us.  We’ve been working hard behind the scenes.  We’ve been working with law makers and decision makers.  We’ve been working to protect Michigan protectors and their dignified retirement and healthcare. 

    The bill being discussed is unnecessary.  Plain and simple, this drastic change is not needed.  Statehouse Politicians don’t need to get involved.  Communities across Michigan are dealing with their individual healthcare and pension liabilities in their own way.  A way that fits their community where they have local control.  Despite what some people in this building behind me think, there is not a one size fits all---Lansing first approach.  Let local governments govern and WE WILL SAVE POLICE AND FIRE RETIREMENTS.  

    The governor appointed a nonpartisan, collaborative taskforce to find workable, agreed to methods to patch up already strong retirement systems.  They came back with an answer----to pass this bill - any bill beyond the task force recommendations -  is unnecessary and purely political with no basis on actual industry accepted standards. 

    Most of us retire with chronic injuries, cardiac disease, PTSD related to our job.  Fire fighters have a 62% cancer rate due to our exposures throughout our career. That is why we work with our cities to forego certain benefits while we are on the job to provide health care through our retirement systems.  It isn’t just given to us, handed down from on high. To pretend that it is just simple awarded by virtue of the good heart of local government is simply unfair.  It is a negotiated item.  For state lawmakers to pass a law changing that, ignores the decisions made by fire fighters, police officers, and local government officials for years.  It ignores the fact that those local governments know what works for them, their citizens and their employees. 

    Attracting and keeping the best and brightest fire fighters on the job is already a challenge. Politically driven changes like this make it harder and that directly impacts the safety of your neighborhoods.  If we want to have the best fire fighters, the professionals that our neighborhoods expect and deserve, then this bill can’t be passed.  The task force took that into consideration during its discussions. Its pretty evident that the Senate Committee did not.

    I said it before I’ll say it again, For OUR REPRESENTATIVES to make these changes is unfair.  Its unfair to police officers and fire fighters who put their lives on the line to keep our neighborhoods safe.  It is unfair to the local government officials who people duly elected to make these decisions. It is unfair to the process that has worked for decades.  This process has kept fire fighters on the job during contentious times. This process has kept police walking beats.  This process works.  Changes from a Senate Committee are antithetical to the good working relationship safety forces in our state have with their employers. 

    Changes to retirements of those who spend a career protecting our families are difficult.  We understand that.  But these changes have a direct, negative impact on the retirements of fire fighters.  We don’t get social security so they rely almost exclusively on this system for retirement and health care after we leave the fire stations.  Changing the rules half way through a fire fighters career is the height of unfairness and should offend us all.  That fire fighter was given the rules when she started.  To suddenly take away something that entered into her plans for retirement, for which she forecast savings and investments, is absurd and only serves as an insult to that fire fighters service.

    The task force recommendations were collaborative…they considered multiple implications to change.  The bill we are hearing about.  Wow.  Perhaps the most offensive part of these changes are the untended consequences.  Because they didn’t involve any one who has actual experience with these things, these changes being discussed by OUR REPRESNTATIVES could go so far as to affect the families of fire fighters who died in the line of duty.  Denying them the benefits that their father/mother/husband/wife earned through their sacrifice.  That certainly adds insult to the injury of losing their loved one. And quite honestly should be reason enough on its own to rethink a bill like this.

    At the end of the day it comes down to this.  Do OUR REPRESENTATIVES believe in good government policies that involve collaboration and cooperation form stakeholders and experts.  If so---ADOPT THE TASK FORCE RECOMMENDATIONS and let the system work.  If they don’t value the input of their constituents.  If OUR REPRESNTATIVES ignore our hard work and our voice.  Well then friends, my voice will  get a lot louder moving forward. Because if OUR REPRESENTATIVES refuse to Protect Michigan Protectors, then they don’t really represent Michigan or Michigan Values. 


    An Editorial written by Fr. Dennis W. Morrow

    Chaplain, Grand Rapids Fire and Police Departments

    Michigan fire fighters and police officers, both active and retired, are currently alarmed at the prospect of legislation being rushed through right after Thanksgiving.  This legislation would change state law to make it possible for local municipalities to unilaterally alter contractual agreements they have made to provide pension benefits and health insurance to their public safety employees. including retirees.

    These agreements were entered into with good faith, but they have been violated by cities during good economic times.  When the market was doing well, city management did not see a need to pay the amounts on which they had agreed into the pension funds.  Their employees, of course, were never exempted from paying their agreed-upon shares into the pension funds, which were conveniently deducted from each paycheck. When the bottom fell out, it was the cities who began crying that the public employee retirees were a financial millstone around their necks, and that they could no longer afford the very pension and insurance agreements into which their workforce had entered with them.  

    At the same time, city management often began to blame their public safety personnel for "retiring early," even as they were slashing the numbers of personnel on duty as calls for assistance were growing exponentially.  When I began serving as chaplain for the Grand Rapids Fire and Police Departments over 40 years ago, it was not unusual to celebrate the retirement of members aged 58-60.  Now I hear more and more personnel, as they approach 50 years of age, acknowledging that the work has become "a young person's job," and that they are looking to retire because they can no longer keep up with the breadth of knowledge and skills they are expected to have, the frequency of alarms and calls for service (especially in the medical field), and the legal nightmares they have to face alone (and in the media) if a split-second decision goes wrong.

    The lot of many of the retirees has been all the more uneasy, because for many years it was impossible for fire and police employees to be enrolled in Social Security.  In order to be so enrolled to provide for their retirement and for their families by working second or third jobs, they had to technically violate city ordinances that prohibited off-duty employment.

    My own father proudly served in the Grand Rapids Fire Department for 31 years, 14 of those as a captain.  He retired in 1979 at age 58.  By the time he died in 2009, he had not received a pension check from the city for nearly ten years.  His entire pension was eaten up by his monthly city health insurance bill, toward which he had to pay an additional average of $300 a month from his modest savings.  Yet I don't recall his ever receiving a letter of compassion from the City, at least acknowledging that they felt bad about his economic situation.  Perhaps they were too busy spending tax dollars on parking studies, diversity seminars, and sustainability consultants.

    Our fire fighters and police officers typically receive accolades galore from city officials on the expected occasions--retirement dinners, awards ceremonies, and the like.  Recognizing the public responsibility for justice when it comes to following through on compensation agreements that have already been made is apparently another matter.  Trying to sneak such legislation through under the dark of night, as it were, without sufficient airing in the public forum, demonstrates what can only be called a cruel cynicism toward those who are at the same time hailed as "our heroic first responders."

    The sense of fair play and labor justice in which bargained agreements have been signed has been severely eroded by authorities at both the municipal and state levels scheming to change the rules once the game has commenced.  Public employees who have faithfully served their communities and allowed themselves some level of trust in their employers are learning the truth of the old saying, "No good deed goes unpunished."

    Fr. Dennis W. Morrow

    Chaplain, Grand Rapids Fire and Police Departments


    Dec 04, 2017
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    Page Last Updated: Dec 04, 2017 (17:18:59)
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