Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Detroit Council Lowers AFSCME Pay 10%

September 29, 2010

Detroit council lowers AFSCME pay 10%

Union leaders call action illegal, plan to sue city

The Detroit News

Detroit --Mayor Dave Bing scored a major victory Tuesday when the City Council voted to impose a contract with a 10 percent pay cut on the city's largest union.

But Bing's year-plus battle with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees may not be over. Leaders of the union, which represents 3,250 of the city's 13,000 employees, plan to file a lawsuit.

They contend the city is illegally imposing the contract, which came after negotiations broke down and an independent fact-finder agreed with most of the city's positions.

"Michigan law supports us in our position," said Catherine Phillips, a lead negotiator for AFSCME, whose members include clerks and Water Department employees.

"This administration has refused to compromise in any of its positions with AFSCME. We understand about the city's deficit. But they are running from the fact they have just put people at (beneath) the poverty level."

The council's 5-3 vote shows that politics has changed in Detroit, and city officials aren't scared of a political backlash from unions, said political consultant Eric Foster.

"At one time, if you were the mayor, you did not go after AFSCME's political power," Foster said. "The mayor took a fiscally prudent position with political risks and stuck to his guns." The contract is similar to ones inked with 34 of the city's 48 bargaining units and includes 10 percent wage cuts through 26 furlough days for three years and numerous benefit cuts, such as health care and vacation time. Bing has said AFSCME's unwillingness to agree to pay cuts has cost the city about $500,000 a month.

Council President Charles Pugh, President Pro Tem Gary Brown, Kenneth Cockrel Jr., Saunteel Jenkins and James Tate voted to impose the contract, while JoAnn Watson, Brenda Jones and Andre Spivey dissented. Kwame Kenyatta is on a medical leave.

Detroit News Staff Writer Christine MacDonald contributed.

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