DETROIT - K. D. Bullock had been retired from the Detroit Police
Department for nearly 17 years and was working as a casino security
supervisor when he encountered a problem last March - long
accustomed to working on his feet, he suddenly couldn't make it up
a flight of stairs. After months of doctor's appointments, he was
diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which makes it difficult for
him to breathe. He not only left his job but had to begin paying
others for the fix-up work he'd been doing on his historic six-
bedroom house. Now, he could be facing another hit, this time to
his $2,400-a-month pension.
The pensions earned by more than 21,000 retired municipal
employees have been placed on the table as Detroit enters
bankruptcy proceedings with debts that could amount to $20 billion.
Labor unions insist the $3.5 billion in pension benefits are
protected by state law, but the city's emergency manager has
included them among the $11 billion in unsecured debt that can be
whittled down through bankruptcy. A federal judge has scheduled the
first hearing on the city's case for today.
The prospect of sharply reduced pension checks has sent a jolt
through retired workers who always counted on their pensions - who
sometimes sought promotions just to sweeten the pot - and never
imagined they could be in danger even as the city's worsening
finances finally led to its bankruptcy filing last week.
Bullock says he's worried he'll have to sell his home in
Detroit's historic Indian Village neighborhood, and others are
wondering if they can afford a house at all.
"A number of things can happen. It just means our lifestyle is
going to change - we have no way of knowing," Bullock said of the
choices facing him and his wife, Randye.
The average annual pension payment for Detroit municipal retirees
is about $19,000. Retired police officers and firefighters receive
an average of $30,500. Top executives and chiefs can receive
$100,000. Police and fire-fighters don't pay into the Social
Security system so they don't receive Social Security benefits upon
Bullock, 70, said the idea that his pension could be reduced is
"a hard pill to swallow" after 27 years on the force working his
way up. He said he was proud to be the first black commanding
officer of the department's communications system.
He said that pensions - and people - should be a priority over
other city assets, such as artwork at the Detroit Institute of
Arts, some of which could be sold to help satisfy the city's
staggering debts. But art patrons have protested the idea of
auctioning off Old Masters in the museum collection. …