Detroit workers striking in defiance of federal court order:
'We're not going anywhere'
By Khalil AlHajal |
October 01, 2012
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DETROIT, MI - Striking water department workers continued to
picket Monday afternoon despite being ordered back to work by
a federal judge.
"The strike will continue," said AFSCME Local 207 Secretary
Treasurer Michael Mulholland in a statement.
"We are fighting to stop the contracting out of over 80% of
our jobs... The workers have been demanding better staffing,
training and equipment to improve water quality for years,
and management has always lent a deaf ear. Now, with the
disingenuous claim of 'environmental protection' they are
simply union busting and privatizing."
Workers from the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant walked
out and began picketing Sunday, protesting a planned 81
percent reduction in the city's Water and Sewerage
A federal judge this morning ordered the striking water
department employees back to work, but union attorneys plan
to challenge ruling, arguing that U.S. District Judge Sean
Cox himself caused the labor dispute.
Cox issued a temporary restraining order against the strike,
ruling that "the job duties performed by DWSD employees
represented by the unions perform job duties that impact the
safety of the public and the threatened strike by such
employees will harm the safety of the public."
A hearing on a permanent injunction is scheduled for Oct. 11
at 10 a.m.
A spokesman from Mayor Dave Bing's office praised the court
ruling in a news release. "It is imperative that there be no
interruption in the service or an impact on the quality of
water provided to our citizens or any negative impact on the
environment," said Bing's Chief Communications Officer Bob
Attorneys Shanta Driver, right, and George Washington,
attorneys for AFSCE local 207, speak about Judge Sean F. Cox
outside United States District Court Eastern District in
Detroit on Monday Oct. 1, 2012. Washington says union workers
aren't expected to immediately return to work despite Cox's
order to end the strike by workers at the Detroit regional
water department. The 950-member union went on strike Sunday
to protest plans to eliminate most jobs through privatization
or other steps. The workers belong to Local 207 of the
American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
(AP Photo/The Detroit News, Max Ortiz)
Shanta Driver, an attorney representing the union of 950
workers, called Cox's ruling and the 10-day wait for another
"We just think that hearing is just too far off," she said.
"By law, that hearing is supposed to happen within 48 hours."
Police standing by as workers picketed Monday afternoon took
no action against the strikers other than to clear paths for
trucks entering the plant. Demonstrators and truck drivers at
times engaged in shouting matches.
"With the disingenuous claim of 'environmental protection'
they are simply union busting and privatizing." AFSCME
official Michael Mulholland Driver said motions have been
filed asking for the dissolution of the restraining order and
for the recusal of Cox from the case.
Cox ruled last year that water department union contracts
could be broken to improve efficiency, in an order stemming
from a federal pollution lawsuit.
A Board of Water Commissioners given broad authority to make
dramatic changes has planned sweeping reductions and
privatization moves in the department.
"Judge Cox is the cause of this strike," said Driver. "He
took over and unilaterally started deciding what union rights
would be... We just don't think he can be employer and judge.
We don't think you can act as management and then pretend to
be neutral party."
AFSCME Local 207 has rejected contract concessions that
include the right to replace workers with non-union
contractors and voted last week to authorize a strike.
"This strike gives the people of Detroit a much needed and
long awaited opportunity to change the balance of power in
our favor," said Local 207 President John Riehl in a
statement announcing the walkout.
Driver said AFSCME has not had a chance to argue against
"We were never given any kind of notice about the possibility
of this temporary restraining order being issued," she said.
"We think that it's just outrageous that somebody could just
play with the lives of the people of Detroit."
Follow Khalil AlHajal on Twitter @DetroitKhalil or on
Facebook at Khalil MLive. He can be reached at
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MLive photo intern Mike Glinski contributed to this report.
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