Police and firefighters in Memphis are calling in sick by the scores as a new Tennessee law kicks in requiring cities to stop shortchanging workers’ pensions.
Bloomberg News reports on the desperate attempts to fight sweeping cuts in retired personnel health benefits.
The Memphis officers contend that Tennessee’s largest city, which for years has failed to save enough to support promised retirement checks, plans to make up that sum by eliminating retirees’ health insurance, which has fewer legal protections. At one point, 558 police officers stayed home, one-fourth of the force, in a city that had the sixth-highest incidence of violent crime in the U.S. last year. At the end of last week, 131 were out.
The workers say Memphis should find money to shore up their pensions by rolling back business-tax breaks, which cost more than the city pays for their insurance each year. It’s an argument unions want to advance nationally to parry challenges to their benefits by cash-strapped governments.
Public-worker retirement benefits have been a target of politicians since the recession. As investment losses forced state and local governments to deal with a $1.4 trillion shortfall in their pension funds, officials from California to New York rolled back promised benefits they said taxpayers couldn’t afford.