Pensioners Urge "YES" vote on Detroit Grand Bargain

By Reinvention Blog | June 23, 2014

Now that Governor Snyder has signed legislation to commit $194.8 million in state funds to the Detroit "Grand Bargain" settlement, it's up to the city's retirees to vote on the plan. Leading Detroiters and representatives of retiree associations are urging their fellow pensioners to vote "YES" in favor of the settlement.

Shirley Lightsey, the President of the Detroit Retired City Employees Association, acknowledges the sacrifices retirees are being asked to make as part of this settlement, but says that the only logical choice is to vote "YES."

"I look at this Grand Bargain as the way out with the least amount of disruptions in retirees' lives. Vote ‘YES.' My question is, if you vote ‘no,' what is your next step?"

Former Detroit city-council member and pensioner Sheila Cockrel also urges a "YES" vote, emphasizing that under the plan, retirees will have certain guarantees about the benefits they will receive. A "no" vote, she warns, is shortsighted and will leave them with an uncertain future.

"To vote no is to, in my opinion, invite Armageddon," Cockrel says. "It's magical thinking to believe that there's some kind of ‘Hail Mary' that's going to happen if people just vote ‘no.'"

Don Taylor, president of the Retired Detroit Police and Fire Fighters Association, also urged a "YES" vote during an event at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where automakers pledged $26 million to help secure, in part, Detroit retiree pensions.

"It's now up to the retirees to step up," Taylor said. "We are the beneficiaries of nearly $1 billion that has been contributed to help secure our pensions and reduce the reductions that we would see otherwise."

Lightsey, also in attendance, added, "As the world watches, I urge retirees to accept this plan and vote ‘YES' on their ballots. You cannot eat principle, and uncertainty does not pay the bills. Vote ‘YES,' vote ‘YES.'"

Under the Grand Bargain settlement, current and former city workers in the General Retirement System would see a reduction in their monthly pension of no more than 4.5 percent (with no more cost of living adjustments going forward), thanks to $816 million in total contributions from the state, foundations, the Detroit Institute of Arts and automakers. If retirees don't approve the settlement, they could see significantly steeper cuts to their pensions under the city's bankruptcy – up to as much as 26 percent.

If the plan is approved, police and fire pensioners will receive a lower cost of living adjustment and will continue to receive their monthly pension check without any reduction. If not approved, the cost of living adjustment will be eliminated.