Oct 132012
 

By David Sole on October 12, 2012

On Oct. 4, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union Local 207 ended their five-day strike, claiming victories. The powerful forces arrayed against the 450 workers at the Detroit Waste Water Treatment Plant included Mayor Dave Bing, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department management, and federal Judge Sean Cox, who oversees the department under a consent decree going back 35 years. Cheering on these anti-union forces were the corporate mass media. In the end they could not defeat the workers, who had begun to garner support in the broader union and community arenas.

The strike began on Sunday, Sept. 30, when 34 workers walked off the job at the largest consolidated waste water treatment facility in the U.S. For the next few days, strong picket lines — bolstered by other union members, students, Occupy Detroit activists, members of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice, and other supporters — kept many truckers, skilled trade contract workers and others out of the plant. Management personnel scrambled to keep the facility operating, forcing many to work 12-hour shifts and even longer.

On Oct. 1, Judge Cox issued an injunction ordering the striking workers back to work. The strikers defied this injunction and stayed out. On Tuesday, Oct. 2, management escalated the conflict by announcing that the 34 workers who walked off their jobs two days earlier were to be fired, along with Local 207 President John Riehl and Secretary-Treasurer Mike Mulholland.

According to Local 207, several hundred strikers returned to work on Wednesday under this tremendous pressure. Management announced the strike was over. They were joined by the leadership of AFSCME Council 25, who had never given the strike any support.

A special “settlement conference” was called for Thursday, Oct. 4, by representatives of Mayor Bing’s office, Judge Cox and the water department, where they no doubt expected Local 207 to surrender. Instead, the strike leaders refused to call off the strike and informed the management side that they would never call off the strike with workers fired and other issued unresolved.

Bosses cave, reach settlement with union

The management side, perhaps fearing growing public support for the strike and sympathy for the fired workers, then agreed to a settlement acceptable to the local union. All fired workers were returned to work (although it is unclear what future disciplinary action may follow). The DWSD agreed to return to the bargaining table over anti-union issues imposed by Judge Cox in a November 2011 order. Included are provisions regarding seniority and union representation that Cox had gutted.

If the union wins an appeal at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, scheduled to be heard on Oct. 9 in Cincinnati, then management has agreed to “reopen the contract and re-bargain any areas of the contract Cox had changed,” according to a bulletin issued by Local 207.

The settlement also recognized the union membership’s right to vote on any final settlement agreement.

This struggle represents the first time in 35 years of a federal judge’s oversight of the DWSD that a union has had access to the proceedings which affect so many workers. Local 207, with 950 members, is the largest union among almost 2,000 water department workers.

The real importance of this strike goes far beyond the concessions granted by DWSD management, the mayor and a federal judge. This struggle serves as a lesson about the power of organized and militant workers. It was a long overdue response to the many years of attacks against city workers and the entire Detroit community by the politicians, bosses and bankers who have been extorting wage and benefit concessions, threatening pensions and slashing essential city services in order to satisfy the profit needs of the banks and corporations.

Sole is a longtime Detroit Water and Sewerage Department worker and past president of the Sanitary Chemists and Technicians Association, formerly United Auto Workers Local 2334.

 October 13, 2012  Posted by  Uncategorized Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Oct 042012
 

Debt service to banks saps budget

By David Sole on October 3, 2012

The writer is a longtime Detroit Water & Sewerage Department city worker and past president of Sanitary Chemists and Technicians Association (formerly United Auto Workers Local 2334).

Strikers and supporters outside the waste water plant, Sept. 30.
WW photo: Abayomi Azikiwe

Oct. 2 — Workers at the Detroit Waste Water Treatment Plant walked off the job at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30, and immediately set up strong picket lines. Members of American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Local 207 — with 950 members, the largest union among almost 2,000 workers at the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department — had voted Sept. 26 to authorize a strike. According to one union official, the rank-and-file workers jumped the gun on Sept. 30 while union leaders were still making plans for a strike later in the week.

On Oct. 1, federal Judge Sean Cox, at the request of management, issued an order for the workers to end the strike. The union’s attorney denounced the order as “outrageous” and announced plans to file a motion to dissolve the order. As of this writing, the workers and the local union leadership remain defiant and on the picket lines.

Top management, operating in “panic mode,” according to a chemist on duty Sept. 30, rushed to the plant the first day of the strike. All leaves and vacations were canceled. Workers from other, nonstriking unions were ordered to work 12-hour shifts and told they could not call in sick. Several workers, who had worked all night on Sept. 29, were ordered to stay in the plant and put in over 20 hours.

None of these other unions, however, do the same work as the hundreds of ­AFSCME 207 members who keep the waste water plant operating.

Detroit city workers have been battered for decades with pay cuts, concessions and wage freezes. Recently the situation has grown even worse. Claiming financial distress, Mayor Dave Bing and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder reached an agreement to overturn collective bargaining and authorize the imposition of vicious wage, benefit and pension cuts on the thousands of city workers.

Some DWSD workers had hoped that a ruling by Judge Cox, who oversees the water department, would prevent them from suffering these attacks. The DWSD is a separate entity whose budget is not under the city’s general fund, but is based on revenues from water and sewerage rate-payers.

Privatization, union-busting plans

It became clear, however, that DWSD was going to go even further than other city departments in cuts and union busting. DWSD had hired a “consulting firm,” the EMA Group, which issued a report in August calling for the elimination of 81 percent of all public workers in DWSD.

The corporate-controlled media ran ridiculous stories alleging that DWSD was overstaffed and wasteful. This, in turn, was used to whip up public opinion against the public utility, especially against the largely African-American work force.

A closer examination of the EMA Group report shows that a major recommendation is to privatize large sections of DWSD. This has been a long-term goal of the corporate world for the city of Detroit. About 10 years ago, former DWSD director Victor Mercado brought in a different consulting firm, the Infrastructure Management Group. And federal Judge John Feikens, who had oversight of DWSD before Judge Cox, had authorized the creation of a secret corporate-dominated committee to examine ways to dismantle and outsource the department.

Those efforts failed when Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was forced to resign in the face of perjury, obstruction of justice and corruption charges in 2008. Mercado is now undergoing a trial, along with Kilpatrick and others, on federal charges of corruption.

DWSD has approved a $48 million contract with EMA Group to implement their union-busting proposals.

Priority: paying ‘debt service’ to banks

Despite all the anti-worker and anti-union propaganda, the fact is that Detroit’s general fund budget shortfalls and the DWSD’s cries of poverty are caused entirely by the huge interest payments demanded by the big banks.

Of DWSD’s sale in June of $660 million in bonds, $300 million goes directly to the biggest banks, including JPMorgan Chase. Debt service — payment to banks — now eats up more than 40 percent of the water department’s revenues.

A recent report from Gov. Snyder’s own financial review team found that Detroit had more than enough revenue to cover all city services and pay current workers — except for the fact that payment on the debts owed the banks gets priority. Only after paying debt service to the banks does the city show a deficit. Detroit’s debt is estimated at $16.9 billion!

Picket lines honored

The morning of Oct. 1 found large and militant picket lines at all the gates to the waste water plant. Cars and trucks were used to block the driveways. Starting at 6:20 a.m., no one was allowed into the plant.

Workers from other, nonstriking unions took one look at the picket lines and turned around to go home. Vendors and contractor workers have refused to cross picket lines.

It has been widely reported that management may fire all workers who went on strike. But these tactics may backfire. City workers in water as well as other —departments are fed up with having all the burden of the economic crisis put on their backs. And the people of Detroit are sick and tired of cuts to their crucial city services.

This strike has the potential to trigger a wider fightback by Detroit residents, workers and the poor against the bankers and their lackey politicians who put the profits of the banks ahead of the needs of the people.

 

 October 4, 2012  Posted by  Uncategorized Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »
Aug 012012
 
Friday, Aug. 3, 5:00 p.m.
Rally for Jobs: “RE-TOOL FOR PEACE”
Detroit Bus Turn-Around Depot
East side of Woodward, south of West Eight Mile Road, Detroit
Bring your own signs

 

Monday, Aug. 6, 11:00 a.m.
Press Conference
Support the call to reduce nuclear weapons and use the peace dividend to rebuild our cities and towns
McNamara Building
477 Michigan Ave., Detroit

 

Monday, Aug. 6, 7:00 p.m.
Film Showing: “Victor’s Plea for Peace: An American Officer in Occupied Nagasaki.”
Followed by candlelight march through Ferndale
Ferndale Public Library
222 E. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale

click on image to download leaflet

 August 1, 2012  Posted by  Uncategorized Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »