Bankruptcy protesters call pension cuts ‘mass robbery’

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — A group opposed to emergency management and the treatment of pensioners in the city’s newly confirmed debt-cutting plan hosted a news conference Monday, vowing a continued fight against the “mass robbery.”

Representatives of Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management assembled at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church along with a handful of residents and city pensioners to voice concerns over the impact of the plan that’s designed to shed $7 billion in debt and free up $1.7 billion over the next decade to restructure and improve city services.

Wearing a T-shirt that read “Hands Off My Pension,” retiree William Davis proclaimed the cuts are “illegal” and mainly on the backs of pensioners. Davis, a member of the Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association, added that the group and others plan to file an appeal.

“It’s illegal, immoral and it’s definitely a crime,” said Davis, who worked 34 years for the city at the wastewater treatment plant. “There were thousands of people who voted no. We have no choice but to pursue this. I will not agree to being robbed.”

The news conference comes days after U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes ruled that the city’s plan is fair and feasible and in the best interest of creditors.

Rhodes’ Friday decision capped Detroit’s nearly 16-month trip through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. It’s a journey that began with fear and anger, and ended with the majority of retirees and other major creditors accepting concessions that spared the city and region a lengthy legal battle.

Monica Lewis-Patrick, a representative of We The People of Detroit, told the small group in attendance at the church that opposition to the plan remains and “we will continue to fight and resist.”

“We do not consent to the taking of our pensioners’ earned pensions,” she said, adding the plan was engineered to “control the future” of the city and its residents.

Under the plan, general city workers will endure a 4.5 percent base cut in pensions and the elimination of an annual cost-of-living increase. In addition, the city will seek to recoup $239 million from the optional annuity savings fund accounts of some general city retirees who were credited with interest earnings that exceeded the retirement system’s actual investment returns.

The pensions of police and firefighters will not be cut under the plan, but their annual 2.25 percent COLA will be reduced to about 1 percent.

During a historic 60-day vote that ended in July, about 82 percent of retired and active Detroit police and firefighters voted to approve the terms of their treatment in the plan. Members of the General Retirement System approved their cuts by a margin of approximately 73 percent yes, 27 percent no.

The Rev. Bill Wylie Kellerman, who is pastor of the church on Trumbull, also condemned the plan. He claims by approving it, Rhodes “gave sanction to illegitimate and unconstitutional government.”