Motown’s New Mayor Unilaterally Ends Almost All Union Contracts

[As the friend who sent this to me remarked, “It seems like at least once a week since Obama took office, I receive an email that makes me check the calendar to be sure that April 1 has not rolled around again. Here’s the latest.”]

Motown’s New Mayor Unilaterally Ends Almost All Union Contracts

By Diane Bukowski

<>Originally published in the Michigan Citizen Newspaper

DETROIT — Without prior warning, Mayor Dave Bing has sent most of the city’s 50 unions a letter unilaterally terminating their contracts effective Oct. 19. The letter, dated Oct. 9, says the city will stop taking union dues and service fee deductions from members’ checks, but will continue negotiations without a contract.

Elimination of dues check-off means that the city’s union representatives, nearly all of whom work city jobs as well, will have to collect their own dues. The letter went out less than a month before the Nov. 3 mayoral election. Most of the city’s unions have endorsed Bing’s opponent, Tom Barrow.

Bing discussed his action on the Mildred Gaddis show (WCHB 1200 AM) the same day the contract termination letters went out, citing an estimated $300 million budget deficit.

Bing’s spokesman Cliff Russell said, “Mayor Bing is working as expeditiously as possible to address Detroit’s financial situation and move our city forward.  The upcoming election has not been a consideration in any of the decisions made by Mayor Bing pertaining to the improvement of city government.  Mayor Bing respects the law and is operating in accordance with the law.”

“We must make the tough but necessary changes,” Bing said in a column published in the Detroit Free Press Oct. 11. “We can’t operate an entire bus line for a couple of riders; we can’t employ every resident, and we can no longer afford the perks once demanded by the unions. Times have changed. And now, we must do the same.”

D-DOT officials have said that any line with less than 40 percent ridership is considered “failing” and subject to be cut entirely or have wait times increased.

Henry Gaffney is President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, representing bus drivers.

“He laid off 113 of our drivers Oct. 2, and who knows what he’ll do if he gets re-elected in November,” said Gaffney. “He’s likely to go crazy and get rid of the rest of city services. We’re going to need 100 percent of our members contributing their dues just for our local’s mere survival. We met with Bing last week and I thought we had an understanding. We were supposed to start mediation tomorrow (Oct. 14), but then he comes up with this.

Local 312 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) was able to stave off hundreds of lay-offs of its members after it filed suit and the city mysteriously came up with funds to keep them on the job.

“Humanity to a guy like that has no meaning and he showed it when he gave less than a damn about the people left without bus transportation,” said Local 312 President Leamon Wilson, who also chairs city’s 17 AFSCME Local Presidents. “We told him we were ready to take some kind of concessions, if he took the draconian s— off the table, but his attitude was, ‘My way or the highway.’”

Wilson said Bing has asked for unprecedented cuts, including 78 unpaid furlough days over three years, the elimination of tuition refund payments, restrictions on annual longevity payments, reductions in retiree benefits, and ending medical benefits for non-duty disability retirees. The latter workers are only paid several hundred dollars a month.

“The city went to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) and tried to get our request for fact-finding thrown out,” said Wilson. “There’s supposed to be a 60-day cooling off period after the fact-finding so this termination should not be happening.

He said the city owes the general employees’ pension plan $46 million from the last two years, is about to default on its current $23 million obligation, and could be subject to legal action as a result. He also remarked that he believes the city plan for Detroit is complete regionalization.

In 1992, former Mayor Coleman Young also terminated dues deductions and laid off the city’s entire clerical staff one day after Wall Street lowered the city’s bond ratings because Detroit workers would not agree to a 10 percent pay cut.

On Aug. 25, Wall Street further lowered Detroit’s bond status. Moody’s and Standard and Poors rated Detroit to below junk level, meaning higher interest rates on the city’s gargantuan long-term debt of $5.5 billion through 2037. The banks and lending agencies financing Detroit’s bonds are the same ones who have received over $1 trillion in tax-funded Economic Stimulus Funds from Washington.

Bing’s Turn-Around team is chaired by Denise Illitch of Illitch Holdings, former Deputy Mayor Freman Hendrix, and former Ford Motor Company executive Joe Walsh. It is populated by corporate executives, attorneys, accountants and others, particularly from the Big Three.

“Bing is the puppet, the puppet-masters are attempting to run this city and plan for its’ future with a plan that has no future,” said Ron Gracia, President of the Senior Accountants, Analysts and Appraisers (SAAA) union. “These people have no clue about ‘public-sector’ and are all out to bust the unions, make it a right-to-work state for their own devices. You can only push people so far before they keep pushing back with a force greater than the one which started it.”


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