Union asking for injunction Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. in CAYMC, Judge John Murphy, 9th floor
By Diane Bukowski
DETROIT – Wayne County workers are expected to pack a court hearing Tues. Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. to fight County Executive Robert Ficano’s order slashing their pay by 20 percent. The hearing is to be held in front of Circuit Court Judge John Murphy on the ninth floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.
Ficano hit over 1400 workers belonging to the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) with emails notifying them of the pay cut Dec. 1. It is not expected to take effect until Fri. Dec. 17.
“Some of our members have already given up a good 20 to 40 percent of their pay in furlough days already,” said Joyce Ivory, president of Local 1659, the largest AFSCME county local, with over 900 members. She said Ficano’s order hits the county’s lowest paid workers, with some clericals making as little as $16,000 a year.
“Ficano is breaking the law,” Ivory said. “The Wayne County Commission has to approve contracts, but they’ve passed a resolution against the cut. The fact-finder has said that we do not need to take this pay cut, but this is Ficano’s holiday gift. Our members are already struggling, losing their homes and becoming depressed because they won’t even have a place to have their Christmas dinners.”
She said union negotiators have consistently asked how much money Ficano has saved from the weekly days off, but that his representatives have refused to give them a figure.
“They told the Detroit News that they’ll save $1.5 million from holiday lay-offs, so they know what the figures are,” Ivory noted. Many of AFSCME’s county workers were also cut off their health insurance due to the timing of earlier lay-offs.
Ficano said AFSCME is the only union that has refused to take an annual 10 percent paycut for the last two years. He claims it is necessary because of a projected budget deficit.
He has completely laid off 200 county workers this year, despite adding dozens of appointees making over $100,000 a year to the payroll. (See VOD article, “Ficano appointees feast, workers face famine,” which includes list of appointees, in November archives.)
In his July budget message, Wayne County Commission Chair Ed Boike blamed the deficit on Ficano.
“Since 2003, the county’s deficit has ballooned from $43 million to a projected $266 million by the end of this fiscal year,” Boike said. “In the last year alone, the deficit has increased more than $100 million. Staff analysis of the CEO’s deficit elimination plan found that nine of the 16 deficit fund accounts are under the exclusive control of the CEO. Hidden in the administration’s numbers are questionable assumptions, overstatement of revenue, wasteful, inefficient and unrestrained fund spending.”
Ficano is also pressing the Commission to agree to eliminating a 13th bonus check for retirees, but Boike has taken issue with that as well.
“Of the 5,473 retirees, 60 percent of them receive less than $15,000 annually,” he said. “Many of the retirees on a fixed income will suffer greatly without this 13th check that replaced the former cost of living adjustment. During testimony before the Ways and Means committee, some retirees tearfully said they will not be able to pay their taxes, buy medicine, pay mortgages, rent and other living expenses . . . .”
Ivory said many of her local members who retired in previous decades receive only a few hundred dollars a month, a situation that also plagues City of Detroit retirees.
Retirement officials say that the administration has no right to the money from the 13th check, which Ficano wants to use to help pay the County’s pension obligations. The check is based on excess investment returns on the retirement fund’s assets, and does not come from the county’s general fund.
Ficano raids federal recovery funds to build $700 million jail, $25 million Dearborn Heights rec center; Fitch downgrades county bond ratings
In October, Ficano announced out of the blue that the county will build a new $700 million “justice center,” either on St. Antoine or the site of the city’s current police headquarters on Beaubien. Detroit’s City Council earlier approved a $150 million plan to build a new headquarters at the site of the old MGM Grand Casino.
The Commissioners voted 14-1 to issue notices of intent to issue bonds for the center, which would combine the courts and jails under one roof.
Only Commissioner Laura Cox dissented, saying she did not believe it was a good time for the county to incur more debt.
“I’m not convinced we are going to be able to reach the nut to pay the debt service,” Cox said in published remarks. “This is just a good idea, [but] it’s absolutely not the right time to go out and borrow money.”
In fact, on Dec. 8, Fitch, the New York bond ratings service, downgraded its rating for the county’s general obligation bonds, including those meant for the new jail complex, from A to A-, with a negative outlook. That means the county will pay more interest on all of its outstanding debt, a windfall for Wall Street.
Fitch blamed costs for Wayne County Circuit Court, which is currently suing the county to prevent cuts there, as well as its Juvenile Justice Fund.
Fitch analyst Arlene Bohner added, “While reining in Court costs has proven difficult, county officials have taken substantive steps to curtail overall spending, including negotiating or imposing 10 percent compensation decreases for all employees and implementing health care design plan changes for current employees and retirees, which has reduced overall health care expenditures. Fitch remains concerned that these may not be sufficient to counteract the spending pressures and allow the restoration of reserves.”
Ficano first proposed plans for a regional jail and courts complex costing $300 million in 2004. He appointed former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and former State Treasurer Doug Roberts to head a task force to study the plan. At the time, the complex was meant to house prisoners from the tri-county area and Detroit police lock-ups as well.
He did not disclose that Archer sat on the board of Johnson Controls, the firm which proposed the plan and was expected to be the construction manager.
The plan has now been downsized to Wayne County needs only despite the cost, which has more than doubled. Ficano said he rushed it through because of a looming Dec. 31 deadline to take advantage of federal Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds (RZEDB), which would cover $200 million of the cost.
The feds have allocated a total of $773 million of RZEDB bonds for the entire state of Michigan. They are part of President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Readjustment Act (ARRA). It is questionable whether use of such a large percentage of the funds to build a jail complex when tens of thousands of Wayne County residents are jobless, in foreclosure, homeless, and hungry is humane, say county workers.
“I guess Ficano wants a place to send our workers who are losing their homes,” Ivory remarked.
She also pointed to Ficano’s decision to spend $25 million, also using Recovery Zone Economic Bonds, to build a state-of-the-art Recreation Center in Dearborn Heights, a suburb which is much more well-to-do than Detroit. (See chart below, from U.S. Census figures for 2008.)
|Dearborn Hts.||50,824||91.2% white||8.9%||49,713||39.1|
Detroit’s total population of 910,921 accounts for over 47 percent of Wayne County’s population of 1,925,848. But Detroit, which has experienced the closure of dozens of recreation centers and schools, has over three times more individuals below the poverty level, more young residents, and a much higher population than Dearborn Heights, was left out of the game when Ficano decided to build a county recreation center with federal funds.
Meanwhile the Michigan State Legislature just approved a package of tax cuts for businesses coming in from out of state to populate the Detroit Region Aetr0tr0polis, a development focused on land around Wayne County Metro and Willow Run Airports.
The Aerotropolis Development Corporation includes representatives from Wayne and Washtnenaw Counties, the Cities of Belleville, Romulus, Taylor and Ypsilanti, and the Townships of Huron, Van Buren, and Ypsilanti, but none from Detroit.
Ivory said also that the county is still paying rent to the owners of its old headquarters on Randolph, now deserted, while paying off $43 million in bonds on “Ficano’s Folly,” the Guardian Building. Ficano has placed the management and financial accounting for the Guardian Building under the county’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
The county’s Auditor General, Willie Mayo, told the Commission in July, “The law does not allow the EDC to perform accounting for and manage projects like the Guardian Building Initiative.”
Boike told the Commission in his budget message, “It should be noted that the EDC is described as one of the ‘component units,’ which have ballooned from six to 16 under the Ficano administration. Included in this category are such entities as the Land Bank and the Greater Wayne County Economic Development Corporation, which receives millions of tax (general fund) dollars. These ‘component units’ place extraordinary control under the authority of the CEO. Denying Commission access and oversight to ‘component unit’ transactions ultimately denies public transparency.”
Boike said the Commission should never have approved the Guardian Building purchase.
“What this opinion unequivocally shows is the Administration’s failure to fully disclose pertinent information that would have allowed the Commission to make a more informed decision on the total cost of the Guardian Building, the bonding, contract approval and hiring practices. What is significant about this opinion is that it indicates the act was clearly unlawful and should be reversed.”