City workers, retirees form human circle around city hall to pro - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

City workers, retirees form human circle around city hall to protest cuts

Hundreds of Memphis employees and retirees held hands to form a human circle around city hall to protest the cuts. Police were there to work crowd control. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) Hundreds of Memphis employees and retirees held hands to form a human circle around city hall to protest the cuts. Police were there to work crowd control. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Photo Source: WMC Action News 5) (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
(WMC) – A protest against massive cuts to health care for Memphis city employees was held Tuesday afternoon outside Memphis City Hall.

Hundreds of Memphis employees and retirees held hands to form a human circle around city hall to protest the cuts. Police were there to work crowd control.

"They turned their back on us, we're going to physically turn our backs on them so they see how many people it's affecting," said Kathy Pleasant-Petrowski, who is the wife of a Memphis police officer.

Council members say it was a tough decision trying to figure out how to get the city out of a billion dollar hole. The decision came down to either forcing people living in Memphis to pay more property taxes or cut health care to city employees and retirees.

Under the approved budget, active employees will see a 24 percent health insurance premium hike. Retirees over 65 years old will see an increase as high as 319 percent. This means, for a single person, health care premiums will jump from $166 a month to $655. The costs are even higher for a family.

Someone who was dressed as the Grim Reaper during the protest held a sign that read, "I am city council. I'm here for your benefits." 

A teenager had a sign that said, "City council just turned my college fund into a family insurance fund."

"It's not just affecting everything we're paying for health care, it's affecting everything else in our lives," said Kelsey Clark, who is the daughter of a Memphis police officer.

Council members say the city would have had to raise property taxes by 35 percent if they didn't approve the changes. City leaders are vowing to ease the transition.

"If everybody can just chill out, we can just take a deep breath, exhale, and if we work together, we can get through this," Memphis Chief Administrative Officer George Little said.

That reassurance is not enough for many city workers, some of whom say they could be forced to find other jobs. An online petition is underway to reverse the cuts.

The widow of fallen police officer Timothy Warren has strong words for the cuts.

"I'm flat out encouraging a strike," Betsy Warren said.

Little stopped just short of saying the city would go bankrupt without the cuts.

"We've not seen a better idea," he said. "If there was, we would have proposed it."

The group prayed for a reversal of the vote.

Organizers are asking supporters to tie red and blue ribbons around cars, trees, and mailboxes to show support for a reversal of the vote.

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