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Detroit unions ponder illegal strike

Fear layoffs, losing benefits in strapped city

- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 2, 2012

DETROIT — Unions angry that Detroit is trying to put its financially battered books back in order by laying off hundreds of workers and imposing steep contract concessions on those who remain are considering an illegal strike.

Several Detroit municipal union leaders said striking has been one of several options discussed during union strategy sessions being held in advance of contract talks with the city to begin later this month.

Union leaders say the strategy sessions have become more agitated since last month's approval of a consent agreement that allowed Detroit to avoid having Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appoint an emergency manager to oversee it in exchange for the city's promise to make deep spending cuts and get concessions from the unions.

Detroit has a $265 million budget and $13.2 billion in long-term structural debt.

Mayor Dave Bing has presented a budget to the City Council that would cut more than 2,500 of Detroit's 10,800 jobs and shave $250 million in annual expenses. Mr. Bing's office declined Wednesday to comment about the possibility of a strike by city workers.

While state law forbids public employees from striking, Detroit's city unions have a strong history of using organized walkouts to get their way or better contracts.

Last November, bus drivers held a half-day work stoppage over safety concerns. Drivers also walked off the job in May 2007 over similar safety issues. They were promised more police protection both times and returned to the road.

Garbage collection was stopped and bus service shut down for 19 days during a 1986 strike by 7,000 workers about pay and other issues.

"We have not taken a strike vote at this point," said Ed McNeil, a spokesman for American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Council 25. "It's at that point. You can't keep pushing people in the corner and expect they are going to lay in that corner and not fight."

Under the consent agreement, the city must seek a uniform contract with public-worker unions. Worker concessions could include potential job outsourcing, no automatic reinstatement of higher pay levels and health care and pension givebacks.

"People in other locals are buzzing around that striking has been mentioned, but there is no exact plan," said Larry Nunnery, who works as a lifeguard and lifeguard instructor in the city's Parks and Recreation Department. "There was a meeting a couple of weeks ago where people are ready to shut the city down."

Deep concession requests could lead to a strike, said John Riehl, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 207.

"If they think they are going to tear up our union rights, the sky's the limit," Mr. Riehl said.

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