Detroit retirees upset over emergency manager's plan to slash benefits

Lawsuit filed against Gov. Rick Snyder to stop emergency manager from declaring bankruptcy for city

By Roger Weber - Reporter

DETROIT - With Detroit teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is looking at slashing benefits for city retirees -- something that isn't sitting well with the people it would affect.

Janet Whitson was a librarian for the city for 32 years. She retired in 2002.

"I loved it. Being a librarian is one of the greatest jobs in the world," she said.

And the job, she said, came with the understanding that she would have a pension.

"I counted on that. I'm very actively counting on my pension," she said.

Whitson is a plaintiff in a lawsuit that includes Gov. Rick Snyder as a defendant. Her attorney, Bill Wertheimer, explains what the suit is trying to accomplish.

"We are seeking an order from the court saying that the governor cannot allow the Detroit emergency manager to go into bankruptcy because to do so would violate the Constitutional right of people like Janet Whitson," he said.

The Michigan Constitution protects the pensions of municipal employees, but that goes out the window in a bankruptcy.

"The danger is if that if they go into bankruptcy they are going to lose those benefits and not get by in their old age, as they had every right to expect," said Wertheimer.

Meetings continue between Orr's restructuring team and the unions that represent retirees.

But they aren't helping to comfort Whitson's worries.

"I did exactly what was asked of me from my employer. My compensation is now my pension and I feel that's owed to me," she said. "I'm single. I don't have a fallback position. I don't have a spouse who can step in and help me through this."

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