Skubick: Retired police, fire, government union workers ready for health care coverage fight

LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – Labor unions that represent firefighters, police officers and other retired local government works are expected to blanket the State Capitol when lawmakers return this week.

Some Capitol-watchers say this could be another potential Right to Work-like confrontation, this time over possibly reducing or eliminating retiree health care coverage.

Union lobbyist Nick Ciarmitaro says “there are a lot of proposals being circulated that are pretty frightening.”

When House Republicans return on Tuesday, Speaker Tom Leonard wants a vote on a plan to reduce the mammoth retirement debt that some local governments are facing.

The City of Lansing is among the top ten in retiree debt but suffice it to say the police and firefighters will oppose any effort to reduce or eliminate health care for those who are already retired.

Mr. Ciarmitaro has seen language that he contends would do just that.

“It’s conceivable. Most of the people who are proposing that want to allow local governments to modify retirement at will but modification could mean elimination.”

Republican Representative Jim Lower says he would not describe his plan that way. He does say a five-person board created by the state and appointed by the governor could take action to reduce the deficit without the unions signing off.

That proposal goes beyond what the governor’s task force recommended. It wants the five-person board to play an advisory role and not impose anything on any local government.

The mayor-elect of Lansing argues the Republicans should stick with the original recommendation to let the locals work it out on their own without the state ordering a settlement to reduce the debt.

“In the task force we talked about leaving that to collective bargaining and providing options for communities,” explains Rep. Any Schor. “Many can’t do it on their own so having the Treasury Department assist would be good for them.”

Speaker Tom Leonard refuses to comment on where this is headed but does say “what I want to do is protect the benefits and if we don’t step in they’ll go into bankruptcy court and they’ll lose everything they worked hard for. We don’t want that to happen.”

So is this another ugly union vs. Republican battle about to unfold?

We’ll know very soon.

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