Police union files objection to Detroit bankruptcy, calls city 'cynical'

Union says it has been unable to come to an agreement on collective bargaining terms

By Matt Helms
Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — Detroit's largest police union filed an objection to the city's plan for exiting bankruptcy, saying it has been unable to come to an agreement on collective bargaining terms and calling the city's treatment of public safety workers "cynical."

The Detroit Police Officers Association, in its objection filed Friday, said the union and its members "stand squarely on both sides of the feasibility issue"  — referring to the requirement that whatever plan the city proposes for exiting bankruptcy must prove viable.

"On the one hand, they strongly support the city's restructuring efforts to aid them in their ability to provide the city's residents, businesses and visitors with more effective police protection," the union's lawyers wrote. "On the other hand, the DPOA's members are creditors of the city, who, as a result of the freeze on their accrued pension benefits and the proposed new (Police and Fire Retirement System) pension formula, face additional and significant cuts to their pension benefits--a critical condition of their employment, since city police officers lack the protection of Social Security for retirement or disability."

The city has reached agreements with an official committee of retirees and a coalition of 14 of Detroit's 48 unions, including the city's largest, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25. But the two major public safety unions, the DPOA and the Detroit Fire Fighters Association, have resisted, saying terms the city is demanding are too steep for members to accept.

The DPOA's objection says Detroit and the state of Michigan have used the state's emergency manager law and a stay on lawsuits against the city in Chapter 9 bankruptcy to evade a common method of resolving disputes — arbitration — in what would "otherwise be a readily resolvable impasse with the city as to economic terms of a collective bargaining agreement."

The union argues that the city is punishing the DPOA for not coming to an agreement, and that the federal bankruptcy code can't be used to either impose lesser terms on the union compared to city unions that have agreed to settlements, or to strip them of rights to bargain employment conditions. The union also notes that other financial creditors are arguing that the city's proposed pension cuts  now reduced to 0% for the PFRS and 4.5% for the General Retirement System -- are unfair since other creditors are taking deeper hits.

Despite four months of extensive mediation talks, there has been no progress toward an agreement, and the DPOA notes that in recent years undermanned cops have taken pay cuts and suffered low morale amid poor working conditions. The union also argues that the city's current proposal "provides substantively different treatment for active public safety employees whose bargaining units have reached tentative settlements and those who have not," particularly in pension benefits.

"The city is certainly entitled to present DPOA with a last best offer in order to reach an agreement with them, and where an agreement cannot be reached, to exercise its claimed right to impose terms the Emergency Manager deems appropriate," the DPOA wrote. "What the city cannot do is to punish DPOA members with a significantly less generous pension benefit than those benefits received by others in their class because they were unable to reach agreement."

The DPOA urges U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes to deny confirmation of the city's proposed bankruptcy plan of adjustment.

A spokesman for Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr couldn't be reached for comment Friday night.

Copyright 2014 the Detroit Free Press

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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