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In Michigan, AFSCME law enforcement members stress need to expand pension eligibility

Photo credit: MSEA
In Michigan, AFSCME law enforcement members stress need to expand pension eligibility
By Pete Levine and Aaron Gallant ·

The public safety professionals of Michigan State Employees Association (MSEA) never quit on their communities. Like many law enforcement officers, they face life-threatening conditions every day. They’re also facing a staffing crisis, as qualified recruits are joining other law enforcement agencies, enticed by the promise of a pension.  

That’s why MSEA public safety officers traveled to state capital in Lansing this month to ask lawmakers to pass three pension bills that would expand the Michigan State Police pension program to include them. Those members included MSEA conservation officers, motor carrier officers and state property officers.  

Testifying before the state Senate's labor committee, they described a time when working in public safety for the state was a sought-after job. And they explained why today, the state cannot attract the candidates it needs.  

Richard Cardenas, a conservation officer, explained that despite working in a rural area and being responsible for protecting the state’s natural resources, he faces many of the same threats as other law enforcement officers. That includes encounters where he’s had to pursue armed suspects. 

Cardenas said fewer people are signing up to be conservation officers because the job doesn’t come with a secure retirement. 

“When I was hired in 2014 … we saw over 1,000 interested applicants for our recruit school. In 2022, we saw barely over 300, and that was after we extended the application timeline,” Cardenas testified.  

He went on to describe how other law enforcement agencies offer a pension and more benefits. 

“I love my job. Being a Michigan conservation officer is a very rewarding career. But I would be lying to you today if I told you I hadn’t considered moving to these agencies,” said Cardenas. 

Nathan Daugherty, a motor carrier officer with the Michigan State Police, talked about the pride he takes in his job and why a pension is so important. 

“I absolutely love what we do. As a motor carrier officer, we protect the roadways and infrastructure from commercial traffic. We’re a proactive organization,” said Daugherty.  

The reason for passing the pension bill is simple: “Recruiting and retention. Our recruiting numbers are down dramatically,” he said, adding that the quality of applicants has also dwindled. 

Keith Lounsbery, a park ranger and the president of MSEA, summed up the crisis by saying: “Our officers need a respectful retirement. The lifespan of these folks is reduced due to the things they see. These officers risk both physical danger but also suffer a psychological toll from the things they see in the course of their careers, like tragic commercial vehicle accidents or domestic violence incidents. It’s very important that after retirement they’re able to have the security of a fixed income.” 

Unfortunately, the staffing crisis that Michigan’s public safety professionals are facing is all too common. Across the country, states, cities and towns are facing massive staffing shortages. To help resolve address this crisis, AFSCME members are organizing together to Staff the Front Lines — investing in our essential workers and recruiting qualified and passionate professionals to work in public service. 

Learn more here. 

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