City Unions Mull Lawsuit Over 2015 Budget Approval Cuts - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

City Unions Mull Lawsuit Over 2015 Budget Approval Cuts

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) - The budget fallout continues a day after the Memphis city council approved a budget with big cuts to city employees.
 
Though the voting might be done, the furor isn't subsiding as city employee unions ponder whether to file a lawsuit over the cuts to pension and retirement plans.

MORE: Memphis City Council Approves 2015 Budget

Tough decisions are never easy to make, especially when you have to pit the welfare of 7,000 Memphis city employees and their families versus an added burden of more taxation on the 600,000 residents who live with the highest tax rate in the State of Tennessee.

Should the greater good always be served above all else?  

They sat or stood in every available nook and cranny of city council chambers, hanging on every word, uttered by those pleading against proposed cuts in pension and city employee benefits. Among the speakers none was more passionate or carried as much gut-wrenching punch as father of five and grandfather to eight, 61-year-old retired police lieutenant Jim Wilcox.

"My health insurance, without the city subsidy, we'll play two-thirds of my check after taxes," Wilcox said. "That will leave me $904 to take care of all my bills."

Even though a $600 million city budget for fiscal year 2015 was passed by a 7-5 vote of the council on Tuesday night, rightfully so nobody boasted of victory; not when the lives of thousands of city employees present and retired could become economically strained, by among other measures, a 24percentt increase in healthcare premium payments.

Almost immediately after passage, threats of lawsuits echoed in the hallways from angered and disappointed employee union members. Although he never made an appearance at the council meeting, after the vote Mayor A C  Wharton responded to a question about possible litigation.

"Lawsuits are just a condition of being in government," Mayor Wharton said. "There maybe lawsuits, but we had this checked out before we started down the road. If lawsuits are filed, this is America, folks have a right to do it."

"We absolutely did research all he legalities, both in terms of federal law and state law, but, in particular, with respect to the charter," added George Little, Memphis Chief Administrative Officer. "So, we're comfortable with the changes that were made and how they were made fit within the legal framework of the authority of the city."

All appeared quiet outside the Memphis Police Association office that also houses the Association of City Retired Employees. ACRE attorney Clyde Keenan confirms nothing has been drawn up in terms of a lawsuit yet since there hasn't been time for a full meeting of those he represents.

Keep in mind too, there is pending litigation brought by the unions over the 2011 decision by the council to cut 4.6 percent from city employee salaries, even though it was later restored.

"I think the face of particularly troubling issues that we had to face, heartfelt issues, council did step up," Little said.

But, nobody feels good about having to do it.    


Concerning the 24-percent increase for city workers, a single employee pays a premium of about $176 per month. A 24-percent increase on that amount would result in an additional cost of about $42 per month, upping the premium to $218.

A family plan under the same health insurance policy would increase from $355 a month to $437 a month.

Retirees would lose the city's subsidy to pay their premiums.

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