Filing felt throughout city

Detroit bankruptcy another setback for unions
Associated Press
Jul 27, 2013

Detroit's historic bankruptcy filing is a major setback for public employee unions that have spent years trying to ward off cuts to the pensions of millions of government workers around the country.

If the city's gambit succeeds, it could jeopardize an important bargaining tool for unions, which often have deferred higher wages in favor of more generous pensions and health benefits.

It also could embolden other financially troubled cities dealing with pension shortfalls to consider bankruptcy, or at least take a harder line with their unions in negotiating cuts.

"This is essentially the union's worst nightmare, said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. "It means that the most sacred of sacred things they've negotiated for, the pensions of their retired members, are going to be severely cut."

Detroit's bankruptcy filing comes on the heels of some public unions losing most of their collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. At the same time, the unions have shed thousands of members as state and local governments shrink public payrolls. The crisis of underfunded public pensions could further erode union clout.

From Chicago to Cincinnati to Santa Fe, N.M., dozens of cities and counties are struggling with massive debt linked to pension liabilities. Critics say state and city employees won generous defined benefit pensions and lifetime health care from elected officials trying to curry favor with public sector unions.

Unlike private employers that must fund such defined benefit pensions under the Employee Retirement Security Act, government employers are not covered by that statute. As a result, many elected officials approved such plans, leaving the financial consequences for future leaders to handle.

If cities such as Detroit can use bankruptcy or other tactics to reduce pension obligations, government employees could become less interested in union membership, said Charles Craver, a George Washington University law professor specializing in labor relations. That would be another dose of bad news for the steadily shrinking labor movement, especially because public employees now make up over half of all union members.

"Union leaders should go to the bargaining table and try to address this issue through negotiations, but they fear being thrown out of office if they agree to any cutbacks," Craver said, referring to pensions.

Detroit's financial woes were aggravated by widespread corruption, financial mismanagement, the auto industry collapse and a dramatically shrunken tax base as people moved out. The city has long-term debts of at least $18 billion, including $3.5 billion in unfunded pensions and $5.7 billion in underfunded health benefits for about 21,000 retired workers. The rest is owed to bondholders and other unsecured creditors.

About 7.3 million government workers belong to a union. The union membership rate for public sector workers is about 40 percent, much higher than the 6.6 percent rate in the private sector.

The fallout from Detroit could lead to more acrimonious contract negotiations between cities and union, said John Beck, a professor of labor relations at Michigan State University.

"If I'm a union and bargaining, where I used to be willing to defer wages in form of pensions, I'm going to bargain for what I can get right now because I can't be sure whether those future wages are going to be protected," Beck said.

Unions, led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, have launched a furious legal challenge to the Detroit's bankruptcy petition, arguing that Michigan's constitution law does not allow public pension obligations to be diminished. But a federal bankruptcy judge dealt a blow to that tactic last week, halting any state lawsuits that would interfere with the bankruptcy proceeding.

"Government entities declaring bankruptcy, it's really a government going to war with its own people," said Steven Kreisberg, director of collective bargaining for AFSCME. He said trying to reduce pensions is unfair to those who worked for years in good faith and expected to depend on those benefits in old age.

The average pension for retired city employees other than firefighters and police officers is quite modest, Kreisberg said, at about $19,000 annually. Retired fire and police get about $30,000 in pension benefits, higher since they are not part of the Social Security system.

While other cities in financial trouble might be willing to follow Detroit's lead, Kreisberg said the stigma of bankruptcy and its long-term damage to a city's financial future make that unlikely. But if there is a national epidemic of pension defaults, it could change what unions would demand in terms of funding levels.

"We may seek legislation to guarantee that employers are making their payments," Kreisberg said.

The AFL-CIO has called on President Barack Obama and Congress to offer immediate financial aid to Detroit. The labor federation also wants any federal aid to be matched by the state of Michigan.

"As the nation emerges from the worst of the Great Recession, it is time for Congress and the White House to make it clear they will not turn their backs on our urban centers," said Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME and chairman of the AFL-CIO's political committee.

But the White House appears reluctant to intervene. White House spokesman Jay Carney has said the city's insolvency should be resolved by local leaders and creditors and that the Obama administration has no plans to provide a federal bailout.

Carney said the administration was ready to provide other forms of assistance, such as investment opportunities or help for blighted neighborhoods hit hard by the recession.


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Self inflicted wound. Decades of Democrats having their strings pulled by their union puppet masters resulted in failure.

Zero sympathy. They received what they had sown.


Corrupt politicians, public sector unions, private sector unions, dependent poorly educated people,all liberal outcomes, recipe for disaster, who's next? Chicago?

Corruption killed Detroit
"In Detroit, racial rhetoric concealed corruption"

"Michigan AG to defend public pensions, state constitution in Detroit bankruptcy filing"

"Invoking his role as “the people’s attorney,” Schuette said he will file in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Detroit on Monday to intervene in the city’s federal bankruptcy proceedings, even after his office opposed efforts in a state court earlier this month to halt the bankruptcy filing in challenges brought by pensioners and lawyers for the city’s pension funds."

A white Republican AG is the "the people’s attorney"?

Unlike Eric Holder who referred to himself as the "black US Attorney."

Imagine that.

The Big Dog's back

Did your prescription for your meds run out?


Take another ride on a golf cart.


If the Federal government bails out Detroit, Detroit will think they can continue on with what they are doing and no one learns any kind of lesson from it all. Cities can no longer be held captive by the unions. The city has to accept some kind of responsibility for where it is today. It just spent way too much. The unions are bleeding cities dry and there will be more cities to follow Detroit.

The New World Czar

Detroit is the first crack in the armor. Wait until all the other underwater cities in California start crumbling.

Don't be surprised to see out Community Activist-in-Chief or his AG sidekick try to get noses into this soon either.

Mr Bean

Anyone who couldn`t see this coming must have been vacationing on Mars----it`s just sprinkling, wait til the rain hits---

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

This illustrates the dangers of/to public unions (even if through no fault of their own), which even if only on a Federal level, even FDR had reservations endorsing. This isn't said with the usual hurr-durr-unions-bad blanket statement. In private life unions bargain against a company which is as it exists does so to produce money if nothing else. Consumers taking from producers.

Against whom does a public union bargain? The public. Not producers, but against an entity that as it is established can only consume (through taxes, etc.). Consumers taking from consumers, dependents taking from dependents. An entity that is run by temporary place holders (the irony of my current aspirations are noted) who are not necessarily responsible for bad decisions in the long run.

After all, a union in VERY GOOD faith to the city and its populace can bargain with (in this case Detroit) city council and be given a loaded promise. Then, as the union and city continue on eventually without the people who made the past promise, it leaves the current administration and union bewildered and both with a severely damaged reputation. It is unfair for all parties involved, honestly. I feel badly for the public unions being pinched like this and badly for the public who is caught.

Most kids don't take mommy and daddy fighting so well.

How can this be solved? I don't know. Maybe public unions are treated differently from private ones? Maybe public unions can't back candidates since it is employees picking the boss, kids picking their parents, and not the other way around? Is it a conflict of interest for an entity dependent on an income to demand its income? Maybe all pay and benefits need to be tied to floating, reasonable trends/scales that rise and lower with the tide of the economy?

I ask because I am frankly baffled. This isn't even playing favorites like "well, police are OK but service employees must go". I'm reading FDR and other sources to try and get a better perspective.

Big Dog, what is your opinion? From what I have gleaned in participating in these forums, you have spent some time in a union and wear that badge loud-n-proud. I honestly want your observation here because I have only questions. I'm NOT calling you out with this. You aren't afraid of asserting yourself and I'd like to know your thoughts. In your opinion, where do the three entities stand - unions, city government, and the public?

The Big Dog's back

If the assault on workers didn't happen, i.e. wage cuts, the orchestrated effort to destroy private unions, the money funneling to the top 1%, we wouldn't be talking about this.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Thanks for responding. I understand your grievances with the private side of it, but what of the public side? While similar in purpose, I see two very different entities regarding public and private unions. Between the three forces at work here I see a game of rock, paper, scissors instead of a harmonious mesh of management, constituent, and service provider.

How does Detroit...well, any city...go from this system of opposition to one that works for all?


Then again did not General Motors file bankruptsy and unions did not fair badly in that. Seems the white collar workers got the short end of the stick.

Then again look at the bank bailouts and there the white collar CEO's and others who actually created the mess walked out with huge payoffs. So at this point I would not predict any group or person is in a bad way.


Banking analyst Meredith Whitney has stated that there are at least 5 other cities in MI, ready to declare bankruptcy.

Investment money has been flowing out of municipal bonds. That in turn will only cause their borrowing costs to rise.

Detroit's bankruptcy will having potentially serious effects on ALL govt. borrowing, which could result in higher taxes and costs for all U.S. citizens.

Detroit’s bankruptcy has been a slow PROCESS in the making, it is NOT an EVENT.

Yellow Snow

Sandusky, OH is listed as the 9th in the US in declining wages.


Fool yourself Pete. A harbinger of things to happen to all if things don't change. Spoke this before when things were decent for most. Many scoffed because they weren't touched. It is going to happen to you also. America has always needed jobs that pay a living wage. Or for brevity: When your offspring face a grueling future, you'll remember this discourse.


Who are the ones running around saying they want things like "used to be"? Isn't me. I reinvented myself when the economy crashed. Did you?

My daughter is doing very well for herself. She will be fine. The only thing that scares me about her future is the huge debts run up by liberals. They want to turn the entire country into Detroit. That keeps me awake at night.



What is this infamous "living wage"? Are people entitled to a specific amount of income whether they finish high school or work?

Does the Constitution or the Bill of Rights grant this right?


Ban all public unions.


"Detroit looks at grim economics of garage sale":

Detroit has become America's third world and it's assets are on sale.


"Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream."

The signs of the failure of Pres. Obama continue to mount.

The Big Dog's back

pooh, your memory seems to be as short as another part of you. Raygun started the race to the bottom.


The city has NO money. Just how does the union think the city can pay for it's liabilities?


As per the article, they expect Obie to arrange for it so it would be the us bailing them out.

The auto bailouts set a very bad precedence. Now every union in the country expects taxpayers to fix their failures.


Donut what you & my father made. You know; work hard live simply, pay your bills & have a few dollars for savings. That means a garden, hand me down clothes etc. The constitution should make military service like the fifties also. Pete hope your daughter can be safe: crime rates, road rage etc, facts are 60 & over knew a better economy. All will pay as our nation loses decent living standards. History validates this.



Your father and I worked for that life. We didn't expect a guarantee. That life is still available but you need more than a high school diploma. The world changes and we needed to adapt not complain about what was. My children have new skills from me and are successful. Their children will need a new skill set and education for them to live that life.

I believe in personal responsibility. I don't believe it is the government's job to provide for myself and my family. People have the right in this country to obtain whatever level of lifestyle they wish through hard work and education. Some people put forth the effort and some don't. It's their choice. The President is a wonderful example.

The world continues to change. You can either adapt or fall by the wayside. History validates this evolution.

The Big Dog's back

Actually donut the koch brothers love people like you. You protect their wealth. I don't know anyone who wouldn't trade a good day's work for a good day's pay. Anyone working a 40 hour a week job should make enough to support a family without Gov's help. Unfortunately the top 1% don't feel that way. They just want more more more.

The Big Dog's back

Music-Pete Seeger

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to build up,a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late


"What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun."

(Ecclesiastes 1:9)


"Everything has a time and purpose". The unions need to change I was a member of a union for 36 years. That union didn't protect substandard workers as we could be fired, or more accurately laid-off for not being able to do the work. Seniority wasn't recognized, money was no given to politicians nor their party, or causes. Mainly they were there to run a hiring hall, making sure only our guys are doing our work, apprenticeship, collective bargaining, continuing ed, insurance and pension. They couldn't donate money to politicians from dues, but if you wanted to bundle through the union, you had to make a seperate donation to the union. We could also make our own wage deals, some of us got 5%-15% "bonus" because we were worth more than most others.

The time and purpose of the way the unions USED to work is over, as has been seen by fewer and fewer in unions. They need to change with the times. Seems they are stuck in the 40's and 50's. They need to change with the times or they will die out slowly. As has been seen the last few decades. Talk about organizations and people that are unwilling to change and adapt.