On December 21, 2016, representatives from eight different labor organizations were invited to join a select group of the West Michigan Policy Forum to discuss Michigan’s perceived underfunded government employee pensions and retiree health benefits.

One a labor representative, James Tignanelli, answered the call to action on behalf of the Police Officers Association of Michigan. Fortunately, Tignanelli represents an organization that serves as the bargaining representative for more law enforcement groups statewide than all the others combined!

Also answering the invitation, and doing an excellent job on behalf of current and future law enforcement retirees, was Bob Stevenson from the Michigan Chiefs of Police. Bob brought a great perspective to the discussion and his presence was appreciated.

Retiree Healthcare

The meeting provided a valuable opportunity for POAM to show the committee how many methods have been achieved over the past 8-10 years as it regards retiree healthcare. We have “same as last day, same as actives, premium sharing, HCSP, etc.!” However, it seems that the legislature likes to see this as a problem. They have little or no idea as to the efforts that have been made to control future OPEB.

The discussion also led to the committee’s desire to, “attract new talent who want portability in their benefits.” Keep in mind that no others at the table have a basic understanding of law enforcement and a career in such a field.

It was pointed out that police officers who move from one jurisdiction to another are far less effective than those that make a career choice regarding jurisdiction perhaps once or twice in 25-30 years. Experience matters. These are not like HR directors or city managers that spend each morning looking for their next job. While that may work for them, it doesn’t serve the purpose that people have for their law enforcement.

Unfunded Liability?

It is outrageously oversimplified to say there is “an unfunded liability.” I asked how many at the table had a mortgage, how many had a car payment, how many paid for their lunch or gas on a credit card? If your mortgage provider acknowledged that you’ve never been late on a payment but they need full payment tomorrow because “they’ve got an unfunded liability,” would that be a promise they had made to you and you had kept? If they said, “We are taking your house tomorrow” would that solve the problem? Same with your car payment and credit card. They make a promise to you and you do all that was asked of you. Then, they decide to take it because they had lent a lot of money.

The committee has asked POAM to prepare a “best practices” spreadsheet. We have been getting creative on this issue for many, many years. There are no two places exactly the same. Should those who have been creative and responsible be treated the same? We have over 530 groups in two peninsulas. The level of benefits have been modified in many of those communities as the need was recognized. Some contracts have more than one benefit in a single bargaining unit! Our research department has the skills, knowledge and tools to put this together. From Midland, Ann Arbor, Clinton Township, Saginaw County, to Monroe – the list goes on.

We Are Solving the Problem

I’m confident the information shared was very enlightening. At one point, a member of the committee indicated that it might require parsing out police and fire. I immediately reminded them of our corrections and dispatch groups. It should be noted that the chair of the committee wanted our members to know that the WMPF had not intended to have a premium share for current retirees. In fact, he said the first time he saw that was on December 1st when the bills were introduced at lame duck.

There’s a lot to be done here. Our goal is to be left alone. We are solving the problem, albeit without the instant gratification they might seek.

We can’t turn this job into one that causes you to work until 60 to get a deficient pension or 65 to get healthcare. I believe they saw this to be true.

We will stay on it! And we’ll do it for ALL law enforcement officers, whether they participate or not. A bad deal for one is a bad deal for all. You have the right people in your corner.

Keep an eye on POAM.net!


James Tignanelli
POAM President