LANSING (WJRT) (11/29/17) - Hundreds of first responders from across Michigan gathered on the steps of the Capitol building in Lansing Wednesday to protest pension/healthcare reform in the state.
"We are trying to join forces all the firefighters and police officers here on the lawn to tell legislators to leave our pensions alone," Said Saginaw firefighter Aileen Pettinger.
A proposed bill in the state legislature could mean big cuts to current and future retiree benefits for first responders in the state.
"We want each government to be able to determine their own fate -- to make their own rules, and have the community decide what benefits are given out," said Steve Heim with the Michigan Professional Firefighters Union.
Critics say the legislation would create a state oversight committee and would basically eliminate local government control and their right to collective bargaining.
"When we retire, they tell us this is what you're going to have after you retire -- it's not going to change, well it does change," said retired Saginaw firefighter William Howard.
Governor Rick Snyder earlier this year created a task force to address the state's unfunded pensions and healthcare liabilities, a $17 billion problem.
"I think the task force came up with some decent recommendations, still has a lot of power in actual local government's ability to change and negotiate different contracts and different pension benefits. I think they made a legitimate effort for it, but it's people that weren't on the task force that are trying to make the changes," Heim said.
Changes, that many don't want to see happen.
"A lot of people don't realize we don't get social security and we also retire at a young age, usually in early 50s, so you have that gap between Medicare where if you attack our retiree healthcare and pensions, we're not going to have anything to supplement it," Pettinger said.
The legislation is expected to be introduced some time this week.