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By March 2, 2014 Read More →

Police, fire leaders call proposals “inhumane, cruel, crippling”


This body went weeks before being discovered in an abandoned building. This is the price Detroit residents are paying as a result of the severe cut backs in public safety services.

Submitted by Mark Diaz and Jeff Pegg.  With the filing of the Plan of Adjustment on February 21 in the United States Bankruptcy Court, Detroit has formally identified its plan to adjust the debt that brought the City into bankruptcy.

The brutal and unreasonable plan for the City’s Police and Fire employees (including retired employees), who serve and continue to serve with an unmovable allegiance to their public safety commitment is not acceptable.

The City’s Plan of Adjustment attacks the hard earned vested pensions promised under contractual agreement of both Police and Fire employees.

In some cases, the Plan denies employees of any and all pensions in spite of their years of dedicated City service. For employees that are not yet vested – including those who have dedicated their lives for up to ten years to serving the citizens of Detroit— they will receive no pension benefit whatsoever under the City’s Plan.

The Plan seeks an immediate and dramatic cut to the pensions and eliminates all future COLA adjustments. To the meager public safety employees’ pension, these changes are crippling.

While urging these colossal pension reductions, the City has simultaneously imposed devastating health care cost increases coupled with coverage decreases at the same time reducing our wages by over ten percent. Baring in mind the men and women of the public safety unions are not entitled to social security benefits, the pension plan announced is grossly inadequate for a decent quality of life during retirement.

The City further claims a unilateral right to continue to cut health care coverage at its discretion.  The City does not identify limitations or restrictions on this so-called right. In fact, the City has expanded their authoritarian reach to include an imposition of a new pension plan.  The City is claiming that Public Act 436 – the December, 2012, Emergency Manager Law- gives thm the right to make these debilitating changes on our members.

We have heard U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Rhodes’ caution that this is a time of dramatic change and sacrifice.  The Plan has crossed the plane of dramatic change and sacrifice; rather it treads on the rim of inhumane and cruel.

The members of the Detroit Police Department and Fire Department need no lecture on the concept of sacrifice.  Every Detroit Police Officer and Firefighter, as well as their loved ones, have sacrificed from the moment they answered the call to serve the City.  We have not risked our personal health and safety, and by extension the welfare of our families, for engorged pensions and benefit packages.  Rather, we have embraced the dangers inherent in our City jobs because of our unresting duty to serve and protect the City of Detroit.

Judge Rhodes has decided that our pensions are a mere contract claim – the equivalent of investor claims.  We disagree. Every investor, from the humble worker who invests a modest amount from his weekly paycheck to the shrewd, well informed Wall Street institutional investor, is given fair warning when they make investments: Past performance, they are told, is no guarantee of future returns.

This cautionary notice is clear. It serves as a warning to investors, including City investors, that their investments have inherent risk and could be lost.  No such warning, nor stipulation, was given to us.  No warning in the beginning of our service or during the decades of dangerous and demanding employment our members have provided. No one told us that, after a lifetime of City work; our promised and earned pensions were simply disposable at the City’s discretion, checked only by the judgment of a Bankruptcy Court that holds our pensions synonymous with the claims of discretionary investors.

We took comfort in the Constitution of the State of Michigan which promises our pensions could NOT be impaired or diminished.

We understand Judge Rhodes’ focus on the welfare of the citizens of Detroit. We have held the duty of service, sometimes through to the ultimate sacrifice, sacrosanct.

What cannot be lost in this focus, however, is that neither the City, nor its citizens are served by a broken pension promise to the abused Police and Fire employees. The corrosive effect of breaking, and thereby trivializing, pension promises are not in the interest or service of the City, nor its citizens.  The City has gained countless members to serve the citizens though promised pension benefits and elite training, despite the comparatively low pay.  The City will still provide the elite training- the cost to the citizens of the City from these attacks on pension benefits are summed up into: retention.  Members, without the promise of their pension benefit, will look to find other employment; now, logging the elite training from our City on their resumes.  This is a disservice to the citizens, who we all are responsible to.

We have actively and will continue to engage in mediation negotiations.  We, the presidents of the coalition of public safety unions, view the mediation negotiations to be about both the heroes who strive to protect our great city and on behalf of the citizens of the City of Detroit, in an effort to maintain the public trust and provide a worthwhile environment for the finest employees to serve the citizens.

Mark Diaz is the president of the Detroit Police Officers Association. Jeff Pegg is the president of the Detroit Fire Fighters. Steve Dolunt, president of the Detroit Police Command Officers  Association and Mark Young, president of the Detroit Police Lieutenants and Sergeants Association, also contributed to this article.

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