Grosse Pointe Shores retirees take to picket line again to protest changes to health care benefits

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 6, 2020

 Grosse Pointe Shores retirees and supporters picket outside Shores City Hall Sept. 15. Retirees are protesting changes to their health care plan that they say were in violation of the contracts they agreed to when they were active employees.

Grosse Pointe Shores retirees and supporters picket outside Shores City Hall Sept. 15. Retirees are protesting changes to their health care plan that they say were in violation of the contracts they agreed to when they were active employees.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — As a group of Grosse Pointe Shores retirees picketed outside of Shores City Hall Sept. 15 to protest changes to their health care by the Shores City Council, one passing motorist called out, “Shame on you, council.”

It’s a sentiment shared by the retirees and a number of residents who have been asking the council to reverse a decision it made in May to move the retirees to a health care plan in which they have to pay 20% of the costs, similar to the one current employees are on. City Councilman Douglas Kucyk cast the dissenting vote in May. The council majority noted that 60% of the Shores’ health care budget is for retiree health care. They say the city has an $11 million retiree health care liability, of which $9.2 million is unfunded.

Shores officials, including Mayor Ted Kedzierski, have said the problem is requirements imposed on municipalities by Public Act 202 of 2017. The act mandates certain minimum retiree health care and pension requirements that never existed before, as well as more costly actuarial evaluations. Among the act’s provisions is that a municipality can be classified as “underfunded” by the state treasurer if “the actuarial accrued liability of a retirement health system of the local unit of government is less than 40% funded, according to the most recent annual report, and, if the local unit of government is a city, village, township or county, the annual required contribution for all of the retirement health systems of the local unit of government is greater than 12% of the local unit of government’s annual general fund operating revenues, based on the most recent fiscal year.”

But, as Shores Finance Officer/Treasurer Rhonda Ricketts pointed out, altering retiree health care responsibilities will only save the city about $139,000 a year, $68,000 of which is from increasing their share of the costs to 20%.

Eight of the city’s 35 retirees qualify for a hardship provision, because their pension is too low; for 2020, that would mean having a pension of $31,225, said Mark Manquen, a managed health care executive and the founder and president of Manquen Vance. He administers the Shores plan.

Retirees say they gave concessions in salary and other benefits during their working years in order to be guaranteed health care as retirees. It’s something they say was spelled out in their contracts and reinforced verbally by officials over the years.

Daniel Pullen retired as a sergeant with the Public Safety Department in 2015 after 30 years on the force. He remembers Village Council presidents and, later, mayors promising employees that the Shores would always honor its commitments to its retirees — and he’s not alone, as many other retirees recall being told the same thing by elected officials and administrators alike.

“I was told 20 years ago, when I was looking for (another) department to get into … ‘You’d be a fool to leave here. You’re going to have a good pension and good health care,’” Pullen recalled. “I still don’t regret not leaving, but we gave up a lot to keep our health care. … A contract’s a contract.”

Pullen said they, at one point, gave up raises for three years in order to retain their health care as retirees.

“This is not an entitlement,” retired DPW worker Tom Collins said. “This was negotiated in our contract and approved even by the current mayor.”

Kedzierski has been on the City Council since April 2009 and has been mayor since November 2011.

Retirees say they’re struggling to cover the health care costs that have now been imposed on them, and Diane Kortas — wife of public safety retiree Mike Kortas — said it’s “going to get worse in January,” when they will also have a new $400 deductible for surgery, tests and other medical expenses. Shores officials, including City Councilman Matthew Seely, counter that the Shores is now providing retirees with a $4,000 health savings account that can be applied toward medical costs.

“I was a sucker for going to Vietnam for this country,” said Mike Kortas, a veteran. “I was a bigger sucker for believing that somebody like Mr. Seely would honor our contract.”

Retired Public Safety Director Gary Mitchell, a Shores resident, stopped by the protest to offer support for his colleagues.

“What’s going on is deplorable,” Mitchell said.

The retirees timed their most recent protest to take place shortly before the Sept. 15 City Council meeting, as they had done for a protest in July. The September meeting had been originally slated to take place outside at Osius Park but was later changed to a remote meeting via Zoom.

“They’re still hoping that we just give up,” Collins said of the council.

That, however, is something the retirees say they won’t do until city officials reverse course. And if that doesn’t happen, they say they’re willing to take legal action to restore the benefits they say were promised to them. Retirees say they will continue to speak out, attend meetings and advocate for change.

At press time, the next Shores City Council meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 20 by Zoom. For an agenda or more information, visit the city’s website at www.gpshoresmi.gov.