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Hundreds protest EM’s plan

Photos by Zenobia Jeffries

Hundreds demonstrate against pension cuts

By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — City retiree Amru Meah and his wife Marlisa were among hundreds of demonstrators at the Federal Court in Detroit, April 1 to file and voice objections to Emergency Manger Kevyn Orr’s Plan of Adjustment. The Meahs joined the demonstration outside the courthouse led by grassroots organizations Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM) and Moratorium NOW! Coalition to protest Orr’s restructuring plan for the city that calls for “drastic” cuts to retirees’ pensions.

Orr — ignoring revenue enhancing actions, privatizing what remains of city services and selling off assets — has proposed a 26 percent cut to general retirees’ (six percent to police and fire) pensions in his plan, while refusing to sue the banks as suggested by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes.

Instead of suing USB, Bank of America and other banking creditors for the damage done to the city as a result of their predatory lending policies, Orr amended his plan submitted March 31 to offer the banks $85 million to settle the swap and COP agreements. Orr’s first plan was to pay the same banks $288 million.

Orr has said if retirees reject his deal, they face deeper cuts of 34 and 10 percent, respectively.

“We’re here to tell Gov. (Rick) Snyder, Kevyn Orr and Judge (Steven) Rhodes this if unfair,” said Meah, who worked 32 years for the city of Detroit before he retired as director of the Building Safety and Engineering Department. “What they’re doing to retirees is taking away our pensions. They just recently taxed our pensions and threw us off health care.”

Meah, a cancer patient in remission, said his healthcare costs have increased from $280/month to $1200/month, with a $2800 deductible each for him and his wife.

Because of the cancer, Meah says he has to receive PET and CAT scans and other medical procedures throughout the year.

“God forbid I should have another operation — I’ve already had two. Catastrophic is $12,000,” said the 58-year-old Meah, who added he and his wife, don’t qualify for Medicare. “That’s the food that we eat.”

Marlissa Meah, 55, added if either of the cuts go through — 26 percent or 34 percent, they may not only have to sell one of their cars, but also their home.

“What we’re paying in healthcare a month is a mortgage (payment),” she told the Michigan Citizen.

Ron Markoe who worked for the city for 32 years said he’s concerned about the impact the cuts will have on municipalities across the country.

“This is setting a very dangerous precedent and some of these proposals are draconian to me,” Markoe said. “Most of us out here can’t even believe what’s being proposed, it’s so far reaching. I cannot believe Judge Rhodes would even consider some of these extreme suggestions, it’s unbelievable.”

Markoe says more upsetting is Orr’s plan to force retirees pay back 34 percent of what they’ve already collected since June 2013 and take back some annuity money from retirees going back to 1999.

“This clawback, where they can actually recapture monies earned in your annuities that exceed 7.9 percent, in addition to the state income tax that we have to pay, the medical costs that have been put on us and if it’s a 34 percent cut or more, it’s going to have a tremendous impact,” he said.

AFSCME Council 25’s Ed McNeil, who supports the demonstration, says pensioners will not be able to survive on Orr’s cuts.

“They will not be able to eat, buy medicine, pay the taxes on their homes,” said McNeil, special assistant to AFSCME Council 25 president Al Garrett. “You’re going to see people devastated and pushed into poverty. But we’re out here today and we’re fighting to let people know we’re not going to stand for those kinds of shenanigans that come from the governor of this state and Mr. Orr, his handpicked person, to come in here and take over the city of Detroit.”

Abayomi Azikiwe of Moratorium NOW! said at the rally, Gov. Rick Snyder and his appointee EM Orr must acknowledge the sacrifice of the retired city workers.

“This is necessary for any equitable process during this bankruptcy,” he announced over speakers as demonstrators marched in front of the courthouse. “We want to say as residents of the city of Detroit, as residents of the state of Michigan, we object to this wholesale onslaught against our fundamental constitutional and democratic rights, our economic rights to survival, to have a home, to have a decent income, to have healthcare that is under attack right now by the emergency manager, by Gov. Snyder and the people they work for on Wall Street.”

Moratorium NOW! and D-REM are calling on all city of Detroit retirees, current city workers, union members, residents and concerned people to continue to support the push back.

The coalition says Orr’s plan will loot the pension funds to pay off the bankers. They say the only choice retirees have is to fight back, or starve.

“Ninety percent of the bank debt owed by Detroit will be paid 100 percent and only a small percentage of the lenders while take a hit, according Atty. Jerry Goldberg, Moratorium NOW!

“We’re protesting the attack on working people,” Goldberg said while marching the streets in front of the courthouse. “Almost all the funds for the banks are guaranteed, while the pensioners are taking the brunt of the attack.”

Goldberg said the large turnout means people are starting to mobilize and they’ll continue to do so until the final trial date July 16.

Rally organizers want residents to be aware that marches and rallies are one of the few way they have to voice their opposition to the work of the un-elected Emergency Manager Orr.

Elected school board member Elena Herrada says the people have to make their voices heard.

“One thing is certain, if we are not here, nothing will happen. If we make our voices heard and they ignore us, that’s one thing. It’s another for us to remain silent,” Herrada said. “It’s very important for us to remember we repealed the law that brought us to this point. Public Act 4 was repealed. And if our vote had been honored we would not be here right now. It’s very important for people to believe and understand that we can turn this around.”

Hundreds of objections have already been filed with the court. Anyone can file an objection to what Orr is proposing. The deadline to file objections has been extended to April 28.  Forms to file can be found at: http://detroitdebtmoratorium.org/file-a-peoples-objection-to-the-plan-of-adjustment-deadline-is-april-1-2014/

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