Judge: Detroit Bankruptcy Case Turns State Constitution to ‘Swiss Cheese’

The Michigan judge who ruled last week that Detroit’s bankruptcy filing violated the state constitution’s ban against tampering with public employees’ pensions, adjourned a hearing on the case this morning until July 29. Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said:

As you all know, my decision last week was because there’s been a violation of constitution. I don’t believe the constitution should be made of Swiss cheese.

Detroit, with the backing of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, is seeking federal bankruptcy protection, including the right to cut pensions for the city’s more than 21,000 retired public employees, including police officers and firefighters. Kevyn D. Orr, the city’s emergency manager appointed by Snyder, has called for “significant cuts” to the pensions of current retirees.

Retired Detroit firefighter Dave Parnell told WXYZ–TV:

When is enough enough? I’ve given you 34 years. I’ve given you two ankles, a shoulder and a back. I’m not even sure about my lungs. What else do you need?

Aquilina ruled the bankruptcy violated the Michigan Constitution’s ban on “diminishing” or “impairing” the pension benefits for public employees. Today, she said:

This is a very important issue. I understand that there may be this question of moving it to federal court….But these are state issues. We’re dealing with the state constitution and an emergency manager who is a product of the state legislation.

Snyder and Orr and the state’s attorneys are asking the state Court of Appeals to overturn Aquilina’s ruling. But once a bankruptcy filing is made in federal court, legal experts say it generally trumps other litigation in state courts.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reports that Detroit’s police and fire pensions asked the federal judge overseeing the city’s bankruptcy to delay the start of the case until the state issues are resolved.

Last week, AFSCME President Lee Saunders revealed that Orr’s legal team two weeks ago refused to meet with AFSCME to discuss retirement issues and, shortly before they filed for bankruptcy, claimed the union would have “months” to address these issues and that meetings would soon be scheduled to do so.”

Public workers are not protected by federal pension insurance. The average public service pension is $19,000 per year. A bankruptcy and possible suspension or reduction in pension payments would result in profound hardship for workers, retirees and their families. Apparently Gov. Snyder and Orr want Detroit’s public-service workers to rely on their children for food and shelter, or have to work until they die.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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IAFF First Responders on Scene in Texas Fertilizer Blast

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Members of Fire Fighters (IAFF) locals are part of the emergency response team on the scene in West, Texas, following last night’s massive explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed as many as 15 people, injured 160 and left many missing, including a member of Dallas IAFF Local 58, who lives in West. IAFF sends us this report.

Hazmat teams from IAFF Local 478 in Waco, Texas, and IAFF Local 2505 in Killeen, Texas, and other emergency service personnel are responding to the scene of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, which has killed as many as 15 people, including several firefighters, according to reports.

IAFF 11th District Vice President Sandy McGhee is in contact with Local 478, the IAFF affiliate closest to the blast. He says, “Local 478 President Steve Tull reports that none of our members have been hurt as a result of the explosion, although their homes may be damaged.”

However, Local 58 reports that 30-year Capt. Kenny Harris, who lives in West, is missing. The IAFF and its affiliates continue to contact members in the area of the blast in hopes of accounting for all.

Hazmat teams have been dispatched, and firefighters are assessing conditions and addressing safety concerns.

IAFF President Harold Schaitberger says:

Our members are doing what they do best and are on scene making calm out of chaos by assisting their neighboring community. This is another situation where this country is counting on our first responders to be there, and our members never disappoint—they respond no matter the circumstances.

“The severity of the damage remains unclear,” says Texas State Association of Fire Fighters President Guy Turner. “We won’t have a clear picture until the entire scene has been swept by emergency personnel.”

The explosion occurred around 8:00 p.m. on April 17, leveling a four-block area around the West Fertilizer Company. U.S. intelligence officials say that, so far, there is no indication that this was a terrorist event. However, nothing will be ruled out until the investigation is complete.

Dozens of homes are damaged or destroyed, some belonging to IAFF members.

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