Gov’t retiree health care getting cut?

Here we go again.

While most folks look forward to the holiday season with great warmth and anticipation, certain public employee unions do not because it seems every time this time of the year rolls around, House Republicans are fixing to chill the warmth and kill the anticipation. Years ago on Dec. 11 it was Right to Work; this time it may be the local government retirees who may get a lump of coal.

An inside source the other day whispered, did you know that the firefighters have reserved time on the capitol lawn for the first week lawmakers are back from the hunting/Thanksgiving break?

Of course that was news and it only took one phone call to confirm that not only the firefighters but six other public employee unions were ready to do battle again including fire chiefs, police chiefs, Fraternal Order of Police, Police Officers of Michigan, and others.

Que pasa this time?

Lurking out there are quiet efforts to abolish health care benefits for local government retirees.

Merry Christmas.

To be sure this is not a done deal and in fact nobody has actually seen the legislation but the mere fact that this has entered the conversation is enough to mobilize these troops.

The House GOP Speaker Tom Leonard confirms that this debate over saving the OPEB system (Other Post Employment Benefits) is on the calendar. He got a bad case of lock-jaw when asked if swiping these benefits might be on the table.

Earlier this year Gov. Rick Snyder ordered a work group to sort out the billions of dollars in debt facing local governments concerning pensions and these health care costs. The group developed a program that got endorsements from most of the players including the public worker unions and local government types.

But then came word that, “some folks want to go beyond what the work group decided” and with that labor got a bad case of “deja vu all over again.”

“We’re fearful of some of these proposals to existing retirees,” laments one labor lobbyist and “we’re not going to wait for this to happen.” Which is why union retirees are busy this holiday season sending out warnings to lawmakers not to do this.

Yet the Speaker notes that unless lawmakers do something, the long-term benefits for many retirees will exist only on paper and the red ink will lead to bankruptcy courts for some local governments.

Nobody wants that, but unions don’t want to reduce the debt by whacking their members.

The governor’s office is aware of this silent movement and he’s said nothing about this “not being on my agenda.” Unions remember when he said that about Right to Work and that was meaningless.

Mr. Snyder could, of course, nip this in the bud by announcing in advance that any measure to quash health care benefits would be DOA if it hit his desk.

That would be a holiday gift the unions would obviously relish, but they are not holding their breath for the governor to be so bold. They say that has not been his M.O. in the past on their issues, except for eliminating prevailing wage.

Since hope is part of the spirt of the holidays, unions can hope for that but they’ll still be here to protest come Nov. 28 just in case that doesn’t work out.