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Retirement Security Focus of New Michigan Retirees Chapter

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The newest AFSCME Retirees chapter is focused on one main goal – retirement security.

Retirees from across Michigan banded together in late October to form Michigan Retirees United, AFSCME Chapter 255. They did so primarily, but not exclusively, to repel attacks to retirement programs for public service workers at the local, state and national levels.

Forming the chapter will help the more-than 3,000 members gain a strong, collective voice, according to Henry Lykes, the newly-elected president.

“Just because you’ve retired from your former position, that doesn’t mean the fight to protect the freedom you’ve earned through your retirement is over,” said Lykes, a former waste water specialist. “A statewide chapter like ours ensures that we can help our retirees build power at more than just the local level, because what happens at the governor’s mansion in Lansing impacts retirees across the state.”

AFSCME Council 25 President Lawrence Roehrig said Chapter 255’s creation was the result of years of planning and hard work.

“The attacks from the highest level of statewide elected and bureaucratic entities have proved that a statewide AFSCME Retiree army is the only way to keep the benefits promised a reality. The energy and knowledge must be maximized in every part of Michigan,” he said.

Officers are sworn in during the founding convention for Michigan Retirees United, AFSCME Chapter 255. (Photo courtesy AFSCME Retirees)
Officers are sworn in during the founding convention for Michigan Retirees United, AFSCME Chapter 255. (Photo courtesy AFSCME Retirees)

Threats to retirement are real for the nation’s retirees, especially in Michigan.

In July, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a bill that decimated the teacher retirement system and steered new hires into 401(k) plans as opposed to hybrid pensions. In 2015, during the Detroit bankruptcy, thousands of retired city employees saw benefit cuts, and fears arose about other municipalities enacting similar cuts. Now, municipal pension and retirement benefits across Michigan may soon be on the chopping block.

On the federal level, congressional tax-cut plans seek to gouge a $25 billion hole in Medicare next year and slash the health insurance program for retirees by $400 billion over the next decade to help pay for tax cuts aimed at the super wealthy and corporations. Congressional leaders are also mulling future cuts to Social Security and Medicaid in the name of lowering the national debt rather than ensuring that the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes.

Mike Kelley, Chapter 255’s vice president, said chapter members are committed to working closely with AFSCME Council 25 (Michigan) and AFSCME Local 5 (Michigan State Employees Association) to protect pensions and retirement security.

“Not only that, but we’re fighting to protect and improve our health care, Social Security and Medicare as well, which are integral parts of our members’ retirement,” said Kelley, a retired storekeeper.

And they’re winning. Last week, the governor and the anti-worker legislature abandoned drastic legislation that would have jeopardized retirement security for current and future retirees. The legislature instead opted to adopt the recommendations made by the Local Government Task Force, in which AFSCME played an essential role.

Key victories in this bill include:

“We built power through solidarity in the union during our careers” Kelly said, “and now we’re building retiree power through our chapter.”

(Contributing: Lisa Martin, Zac Ogle, Ben Hodapp, Raju Chebium)