Retirees under attack
By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — When 68-year-old retiree Donald Smith called his health insurer about the city-mandated new health plan to begin February of next year, he says no one could answer his questions. “Nobody could tell me anything,” Smith told the Michigan Citizen.
He says he recently received a letter in the mail informing retirees Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr had postponed the implementation of the new health plan that was originally scheduled to begin in January. Blue Cross Blue Care Network is Smith’s insurance company and the insurer for city employees.
Smith, who receives $840 a month from his pension and approximately a thousand dollars in social security, said he called BCBCN because he’s trying to get his finances in order to make sure he has enough to cover the new plan.
“I wanted to make sure I start the new year above water. The city is not going to pay the same amount, and I have to make up the difference,” he said. “(Although), I’m not sure what it is; I got a budget. When (the insurance rate) goes up, I want to be prepared.”
Smith, who worked a total of 29 years as a detention officer, parking enforcement officer and a receiving clerk at the former Detroit Receiving Hospital, also shared his concerns about not being able to continue his medication for arthritis, high blood pressure and asthma.
“After everything is paid out, I have $300 to last a month. There are days where I have to make up my mind whether I’m going to eat or get my medicine,” he said.
EM Orr’s office released a statement Nov. 8, announcing the City and Retiree Committee, appointed by Federal Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, agreed to extend current healthcare benefits for all retirees until Feb. 28, 2014.
During this period, Orr and the committee will continue negotiations to reach an agreement on a long-term health package for retirees, according to the statement.
“This decision allows all retirees to maintain their healthcare coverage while the parties continue to negotiate what retiree healthcare benefits will be offered and how they will be administered,” Orr said. «The city will negotiate in good faith, and as expeditiously as possible, the health benefit arrangement for the remainder of 2014 and beyond to create a long-term solution for the city’s retiree health obligations.”
Smith said he’s not confident Orr will negotiate in good faith.
He was one of about a hundred retirees who filed complaints against Orr, requesting the court dismiss the EM’s bankruptcy filing. Complainants charged the governor’s appointee did not initially negotiate in good faith with retirees and unions prior to filing for bankruptcy.
Over half testified before Judge Rhodes, Sept. 19.
Smith made news stories in September when he invited Gov. Rick Snyder to his home in Highland Park for dinner with his family.
“I wanted him to see what a real person this is coming from,” he told this reporter, describing his intention behind the letter he wrote to the governor.
The letter reads in part:
“Because of your decision to force Detroit into bankruptcy, I am starting to wonder which of my basic needs I can live without. I did not bankrupt Detroit — in fact, I went to work every day to make it a better place to live. So I can’t understand why you would ask retirees like me to give up the pension benefits we earned.
If you believe we can afford to make do with less, then you must not know us. That’s why I want to invite you to my home so you can get to know me and see what life is like for retired city employees.”
Smith has five adult children and over 30 grandchildren. The recent divorcé, now lives alone but helps out his family when he can.
In an interview with WXYZ, Gov. Snyder said, having lunch with him would not change anything. “It’s in the courts; it’s not really sitting down having lunch with me. I don’t make that decision,” he said. “It’ll be through the bankruptcy process. And there’s been a group of people appointed to represent the retirees, and I’m sure they’ll do a good job. So, I would recommend they talk to that group of people.”
Smith doesn’t share the governor’s sentiments about who is or should be his and other retirees’ representation. “I’m mad at the governor,” he said. “He’s supposed to protect us. The politicians in this country are supposed to be public servants; they serve nobody but themselves.”
Smith said the governor was elected and sworn into office to uphold the state constitution which mandates protection of pensions. He referenced Article 9, Section 24 of the Michigan Constitution that reads:
“The accrued financial benefits of each pension plan and retirement system of the state and its political subdivisions shall be a contractual obligation thereof, which shall not be diminished or impaired thereby.”
Smith says he dedicated the best years of his life to the city of Detroit. He says he is not asking for a hand out. “There’s nothing else I can do; who’s going to hire me?” he said. “I’m not asking them to give me anything. It’s what I’ve paid into; it’s what I’ve earned.”
Smith called the move to take away the pensions and reduce the healthcare for over 21,000 Detroit retirees, “rotten.”
No protection for putting your life at risk
With tears in his eyes, retired Detroit Police officer David Mallory recalled his 33 years and two months of service on the streets of Detroit as a patrolman and detective, and also a court officer.
“When you get older and start thinking about these things…,” said Mallory becoming choked up and unable to complete his sentence. “I’m sorry.”
Mallory served with the best of the DPD and sometimes with the worst. On many occasions, it was the call of duty.
But when you get older, Mallory said, you can’t help but think about it.
As often as he tried not to tell his own story — wanting to focus on what he called the injustice of the Emergency Manager-led bankruptcy filing, he could not resist doing so.
Mallory was still a rookie when the department’s infamous STRESS (Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets) officers ran rampant in the city during the early 70s.
Having been on the force for almost two years in 1972 when officers Robert Bradford and William Dooley, were fatally and critically wounded, respectively, the then 26-year-old was part of the citywide “manhunt” for the shooters. The controversial case, arguably one of the greatest in the department to date, was nationally known.
He showed a Detroit News picture that ran in the Jan. 15, 1973 issue of Newsweek magazine.
While his partner is frisking a motorist (who according to the caption of the photo “superficially resembled one of the shooters) on the driver’s side of a vehicle, Mallory walks around the front of the vehicle with a flashlight in one hand and his gun in the other.
He compared retirement for police officers to soldiers returning home from war.“They talk about (being in) the military and having post traumatic stress (disorder) … things happen on the job…,” he said.
Oftentimes, his life was in danger, whether or not he knew it at the moment. His pension and benefits are well-deserved. “I’m getting about $3,900 a month. I get a good pension, but I put a long time in.”
Not only did he put in over three decades of service to the city, Mallory says “the effects of being a cop,” are not considered and are rarely mentioned. Mallory has had a number of broken bones, and recalled instances where he’d been shot at, “cut, stabbed, kicked, bludgeoned, urinated on and spat on.” However, he says, there were rewards that came with the job. “You can’t work in Detroit and not be involved,” said the Detroit resident.
Mallory, a dedicated officer received numerous awards, citations, certificates
Of his monthly payments, the city of Detroit retains about $840 of his monthly pension, for his wife’s full coverage under his plan.
“I have paid into that guarantee my wife would have my pension and health benefits — over $100,000,” Mallory said. “This (story) isn’t being told.”
His wife’s health coverage is Mallory’s greatest concern because his wife is suffering health challenges.
Three other times, he says, the city was in dire financial straits and a way was made without having the workers and retirees suffer. He mentioned the “Coleman days” named after Mayor Coleman Young who ordered 20-day non paid furlough days for those workers who had not been laid off. “I may not have liked him, but he worked it out.”
Make the banks pay, Mallory said. “All these homes that went into foreclosure, who is paying the taxes on those now? The companies? The banks should be paying,” he said.
Mallory wants to send a message to Gov. Rick Snyder. “He can be arrested and charged for malfeasance,” he said.
However, there were rewarding moments, Mallory showed several citations, awards
and commendation certificates he received for honorable service throughout his tenure as a patrolman and a detective. He is most proud of his presidential award received in 1971 and signed by President Richard Nixon.
One of his heroic acts led to his receipt of the DPD’s most prestigious honor for escaping a partially-crippled woman and her 8-year-old daughter from a fire.
As a patrolman he worked 20 felonies. He was promoted to detective sergeant in 1987.
As an investigative detective, he was assigned 10,320 cases; typed 973 warrants; handled 128 missing person cases; appeared in court 581 days, which total 1,746 hours and 57 minutes. He reiterates, “I earned my pension.”
Mallory is worried he won’t be able to afford the new plan he’ll be forced to take in February.
He’s worried his wife will not continue to receive the medical attention she needs. “We paid our dues, we don’t need additional pressure,” he said. “We felt we had taken care of our wives — now they’re just thrown to the wind.”
He teared up again, but then smiled.
“You would have never seen this while I was working.”