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VOL. 7 | NO. 30 | Saturday, July 19, 2014

Editorial: City Falters in Benefits Changes Approach

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There was a better way for the city of Memphis to make needed changes to health insurance benefits for city employees and retirees.

A lot more leadership from the mayor is at the top of the list of “should haves” we have in how this has been handled to date with pension changes still to come in October.

The political scenery in this also reveals some alarming attitudes among those upset by the changes.

Some of those who are the most vocal in the outcry against the changes believe they have the same benefits everyone else has and that those benefits combined with their jobs constitute an unconditional lifetime commitment not only to them but to their families.

They believe it so fervently that, when necessary changes are proposed, some threaten to use their jobs to discourage those changes. When challenged on this point, they can parse words better than any of the politicians they shower with their outrage.

Too much of the rhetoric and tactics from the most vocal city employees in the last three months amount to bullying and intimidation. More importantly, it betrays a view of the city for many as a place they come to work and don’t really know or care about beyond the stereotypes they’ve constructed to withstand any evidence that the city doesn’t becomes a wasteland once they clock out.

The message is the rest of us should be grateful they bother to come work in our city and gratitude is in the form of no changes to anything they were promised by someone in a suit the day they were hired.

It is paternalistic and, in the case of police, it is a pernicious attitude that makes the case for requiring police officers to live somewhere in the city they protect and serve.

The administration has done a poor job of credibly answering legitimate concerns from employees and retirees in particular about a transition to the health care exchanges or the new terms for remaining in the city’s plan. The result is a legitimate fear among many retirees that they are about to be left without the medical care they need at a reasonable cost at the most vulnerable time in their lives.

We cannot understand why the city’s approach remains a one-size-fits-all policy that fails to acknowledge the reality that public safety employees have jobs that are more dangerous, with more health problems later and a shorter life expectancy for many.

Other cities acknowledge that reality with pension plans specifically for public safety employees. Doing so could allow the city to also enroll city employees in categories outside public safety in Social Security, according to Segal Consulting, the actuary firm hired by the Memphis City Council.

These are difficult decisions that have to be made both with an eye on the city’s bottom line and how this affects individual employees.

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