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Detroit water workers could be fired for striking;
Union officials disagree on going back to work
By Khalil AlHajal
MLive Michigan
Oct. 02, 2012
http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2012/10/detroit_water_workers_could_be.html

Detroit water workers could be fired for striking;
Union officials disagree on going back to work DETROIT,
MI -- The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has
suspended 34 workers pending termination, saying the
striking employees "endangered public health and safety
by unlawfully abandoning their jobs at the plant."

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 Department.

"The individuals were ordered not to enter on to any
DWSD property and directed not to misrepresent
themselves as department employees in good standing
during the suspension period," department officials
announced in a news release Tuesday.

Their termination will go into effect Oct. 10, but
workers can request a hearing to contest their
suspension.

The striking workers have defiantly picketed outside
the plant, ignoring a federal court order to return to
work.

Lawyers for AFSCME Local 207, which represents 950
water workers, were reviewing suspension notifications
and have been fighting for a court hearing to challenge
the ruling from U.S. District Judge Sean Cox, who they
say caused the labor dispute in the first place.

AFSCME Local 207 is an affiliate of Michigan AFSCME
Council 25.

AFSCME Council 25 officials have urged the workers to
comply with the court order, but Local 207 officials
refused.

Council 25 President Al Garrett said that he
sympathizes with the workers' frustrations with "poor
working conditions, lack of equipment and inadequate
staffing levels," but said they should comply with the
court order.

Shanta Driver, an attorney for Local 207, said Council
25 officials' pleas for an end to the strike were
firmly rejected by demonstrators.

The Local reprimanded Council 25 in a release sent
Monday night.

"The leaders of Council 25 know that their decision to
try to break the Local 207 strike has completely
discredited them with Local 207 members and will
discredit them with other union members that hear about
what they did," the Local said in a detailed document
(Read in full here). "But they have a sense of how
powerful our strike is and how quickly it could go from
the strike of one union to the strike of many."

Detroit's water department supplies drinking water to
the city and 126 other Michigan communities, many of
which have had to raise water rates to pay for the
service.

Ypsilanti City Council will discuss proposed water and
sewage rate increases tonight.

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.

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.

Cox on Monday morning 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."

Driver filed motions asking for the dissolution of the
restraining order and for the recusal of Cox from the
case.

"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."

The dispute is one of several over sweeping department
cuts in the city.

A number of other departments are being reduced under a
separate fiscal stability plan outlined in a consent
agreement with the state approved in April after Gov.
Rick Snyder determined Detroit to be in financial
emergency.

A judge last week dissolved a restraining order that
stalled the outsourcing of the city's health department
to a nonprofit agency. That move was scheduled to begin
this week.

Follow Khalil AlHajal on Twitter @DetroitKhalil or on
Facebook at Khalil MLive. He can be reached at
[log in to unmask] or 313-643-0527.

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