Detroit unions to end talks if state plan accepted

DETROIT Mon Apr 2, 2012 7:15pm EDT

The skyline of Detroit, Michigan is seen from Windsor, January 4, 2012. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

The skyline of Detroit, Michigan is seen from Windsor, January 4, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

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DETROIT (Reuters) - Detroit's public employee unions will not negotiate more cost-cutting agreements with the city if it agrees to a state-mandated financial plan designed to stop Detroit from running out of money, the head of a major city union said on Monday.

The financial stability agreement drafted by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's administration would require significantly deeper concessions from city unions than have already been agreed to. Opposition to the plan has come as the city's elected leaders and state-appointed officials work to agree on Snyder's financial plan for Detroit.

A tough stance by union officials could make it much more difficult for city leaders trying to fix Detroit's fiscal crisis without the intervention of a state-appointed emergency manager, who under Michigan law would have far more power to make unilateral changes to contracts.

Most of the city's labor contracts expire June 30. The proposed consent agreement with the state of Michigan calls for significant changes to Detroit's multiple labor deals.

On Monday, Detroit's nine-member city council held a public meeting with members of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's administration to discuss changes to the governor's plan, a draft of which was delivered to them late last week. The council will vote on the amended agreement as early as Tuesday afternoon.

A majority of the city council members are expected to vote in favor of the consent deal, even after throngs of residents and community leaders spoke out in opposition of the agreement. Three of the members aided the governor's office and mayor's staff in crafting the plan.

A financial review team, meanwhile, will meet early on Tuesday to discuss whether to approve the consent agreement. The team, which the governor appointed in December, is charged with sizing up Detroit's financial situation and recommending a course of action.

However, votes cast by council members and the review team may not have much meaning due to legal challenges that threaten to slow the process.

Detroit labor unions on Friday filed a complaint against Snyder and State Treasurer Andy Dillon in federal district court asking for a temporary restraining order prohibiting the state or city from taking action on a consent agreement that would impair tentative labor agreements which the unions ratified last month.

A response filed by Michigan's attorney general challenged the request, saying the unions were not likely to succeed based on the merits of their case, adding there is no impairment of contracts since Detroit has not formally accepted the agreements with the unions.

A judge scheduled the hearing on the temporary restraining order request for 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) on Tuesday.

UNIONS DIG IN

As it is currently written, the consent agreement would implement far more uniformity among contracts as well as additional outsourcing, alterations to health-care agreements and rewriting of work rules.

The unions completed concession negotiations with Detroit over a month ago and say they have no intention to resume talks based on Snyder's plan.

"As long as I am president we will not be back at the table prior to the expiration date of our contract," Albert Garrett, president of AFSCME Council 25, told Detroit's city council.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, represents about half of the city's unions and a third of the city's employee headcount.

Snyder, who faces a deadline as soon as Thursday for acting on the review team's recommendations, is trying to act before Detroit is expected to run out of money in May. Once a plan is in place, city officials would be required to go back to the unions to once again negotiate cost reductions.

Garrett's comments follow a sweeping effort by Mayor Bing's administration to forge concession agreements with the city's 48 unions after deep financial problems came to light late last year.

Those agreements, aimed at saving the city $68 million a year, were recently ratified, but were criticized by Snyder as being insufficient.

Snyder's consent agreement is aimed at allowing elected city officials to continue running the city, but with additional help. If the agreement fails to produce the desired result, he could appoint an emergency financial manager.

LEGAL CHALLENGES

The consent agreement has been a controversial subject in Detroit. The agreement, drafted largely by the state treasurer in discussions with city leaders, imposes strict financial controls on city operations and requires outside leaders to work with Bing on restructuring how the city is run.

Union officials, including Garrett, said they have confidence in a public movement to limit the governor's ability to intervene in the financial problems facing many Michigan cities.

Michigan election officials are in the process of verifying the signatures on petitions aimed at placing a repeal of Michigan's Public Act 4 emergency manager law on the November ballot. If the measure is certified for the statewide ballot, the law would be suspended and the former law, which empowered state-appointed managers with less sweeping authority to make changes, would take its place in the interim, according to Michigan's attorney general. Public Act 4, which allows emergency managers to void collective bargaining agreements and replace local elected officials for the duration of the fiscal emergency, is also facing a constitutional challenge in court.

(Reporting by John Stoll and Karen Pierog; Editing by Tiziana Barghini, Dan Grebler, Gary Crosse)

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Comments (2)
JamVee wrote:
It’s really too bad, that the City can’t just let the Union contracts expire on June 30th and then lay off everyone that doesn’t come in to work the next day (excepting, of course bona fide sick leave). I mean, sooner or later, we are all going to be forced to sacrifice, unless we want our kids and grand kids to inherit our stupid mistakes.

Apr 02, 2012 3:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
AZWarrior wrote:
Let them go under. I am sick and tried of trying to help those who won’t help themselves.

Apr 02, 2012 3:47pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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