FEDERAL JUDGE GIVES PANEL 60 DAYS TO PREPARE PLAN TO IMPROVE THE SEWAGE PLANT
September 16, 2011
On Friday September 9, Federal Judge Sean Cox issued an order giving an appointed panel till November 4, 2011 to present a plan to keep the Wastewater Treatment Plant in compliance with federal pollution standards or he will impose “a more intrusive remedy.”
The judge’s panel is comprised of the City COO Chris Brown, City Council’s Charles Pugh and Gary Brown, and a member of the Board of Water Commissioners. The judge ordered the panel to “disregard” union contracts and the City Charter. That would violate the democratic rights of union members and Detroit citizens. Cox’s “intrusive remedy” would likely be some combination of regional takeover and/or privatization. While disguised as a measure necessary to protect the environment, everyone knows that the underlying racist assumption behind such takeovers is that black people cannot be trusted to administrate or govern. The other absurd implication is that unions and workers are to blame for management’s failures. These are lies.
In the 1970s, the Sewage Plant was in shambles due to mismanagement, underfunding, lack of training and short-staffing. It was a polluting Lake Erie, so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued. In 1978, Detroit and the communities that use our sewerage system agreed to oversight by Federal Judge Feikens. Since then the plant has repeatedly fallen out of compliance with federal pollution standards by sending too much suspended solids into the river. Judge Feikens stepped in several times to order more staff, training and equipment. But soon after DWSD management would start cutting back and the plant would start polluting again. In 2002, Feikens installed a private contractor, Victor Mercado as DWSD Director. Mercado slashed jobs, cut overtime, sold off vehicles, cut training and got involved in Kilpatrick’s corruption schemes (privatization always means corruption). Water leaks went unrepaired and the WWTP started polluting again. By 2009 violations were frequent, mostly due – as always – to the lack of operable dewatering units.
Every few years since the 1950’s suburban politicians have tried to assert control over Detroit’s vast water and sewerage system. After the election of Mayor Coleman Young the phony justifications for these takeover attempts became increasingly racist. For years Local 207 has led the opposition to these takeovers.
Toward the end of Mayor Kilpatrick’s reign, Judge Feikens assembled representatives of big business (including Dave Bing) for closed door discussions about regionalizing the water department. Feikens’ plan involved the suburbs paying Detroit for the system. Mayor Kilpatrick’s representative was part of this plot. The problem was that the suburban politicians wanted to steal DWSD for free. Local 207 exposed this conspiracy in the press. After Kilpatrick self-destructed, the plan fell apart for the lack of support in Detroit.
Judge Feikens died last year and oversight passed to Judge Sean Cox, brother of former right-wing Republican State Attorney General, Mike Cox. In July of this year, Detroit asked the State of Michigan to take over monitoring of the plant, and requested that Cox end federal control. Oakland and Macomb counties then asked Cox to take DWSD away from Detroit and convert it to a stand-alone entity. Cox’s order is his response.
Local 207 presented City Council with suggestions to keep the plant in compliance as below. We are preparing legal action to protect union members’ interests. We have urged City Council to do likewise. The crisis at WWTP must not be used as an excuse to pull off a takeover or to privatize the Water Department. Detroiters must not allow ourselves to be stripped of our remaining assets and jobs by a bunch of copper thieves in suits. If they try it, we must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to save our department, our jobs, and our city.
AFSCME LOCAL 207’S Suggestions to Improve the WWTP
HIRE MORE STAFF
There were once approximately 1,000 employees at the WWTP. Positions have been slashed and yet still only 70% of the remaining positions were filled as of the third quarter of 2011. Even though there has been significant hiring over the last 18 months there still are shortages of workers in the Sewage Plant Operator series and Plant Maintenance Mechanic series. Other divisions of DWSD also are short staffed.
CLASS ROOM & ON-THE-JOB TRAINING
With the decline in Michigan industrial jobs, many new hires have little industrial experience. Make sure newer employees are working smart by teaching them the right way from the beginning. This means, in addition to classes that need to be arranged, on-the-job trainers should shadow new employees and those taking on new responsibilities. State certification tests do not equal competency. Detroit’s location on the Great Lakes is an important asset. DWSD should become the training ground for leadership in water and wastewater technology for the nation.
STOP DRIVING OUT EXPERIENCED EMPLOYEES
The Mayor’s threatened concessions have meant a flood of retirement, including early retirements. Threats to expropriate unused sick time accrued through years of good attendance means that some people have decided to retire before much of their sick time is taken without compensation. Others are forced to retire by the maximum ten year look back for average final compensation. Back off the threats to stem the outflow of experience.
INCREASE PAY SCALES
Judge Cox expressed concern that City-wide collective bargaining agreements have set pay scales too low. All that’s required is that those titles be altered to “DWSD” specific classifications, and management could then easily increase wages for the new titles. This would not be hard to do since many of our titles are already “Water” or “Sewage” specific.
The WWTP should be using modern green technology such as anaerobic digesters which not only reduce solids but use the sludge to create energy to run the plant. Boston has had them for years. Ypsilanti uses modern fluidized bed incinerators; Detroit still uses redesigned iron furnaces from the 19th century to incinerate sewage sludge.
DEWATERING: THE KEY TO SUSTAINED COMPLIANCE
Purchase and install heavy duty dewatering machines such at belt filter presses and centrifuges, use the best supplies (polymer, lubricants, replacement parts, etc), maintain a steady supply of parts, fully staff and train the maintenance and operations crews. Staff the plant at the former levels to keep the machinery clean and in good running order. Stop being “penny wise and pound foolish” with staffing, equipment, training and supplies.
It is past time to replace the discredited Workbrain and antiquated PPS payroll systems. Unisys has informed IT that it will no longer support PPS beyond next year. Stop the weekly flood of payroll errors that waste Human Resource’s time. Many workers refuse management’s requests to work overtime because they know that they may never be paid for it. Speed up the promotion process. The city must stop relying on tests that include questions that have not changed in sixty years about tools that are no longer used.
REDUCE RELIANCE ON CONTRACTORS
Due to the long lag time to purchase parts, management has been paying contractors a 30% mark-up to buy parts for them as well as supply skilled trades workers. A study in the New York Times just proved that contracting out is twice as expensive as using public workers. We must train our own skilled trades people through our City apprenticeship program.
AFSCME Local 207 General Membership Meeting –
THURSDAY OCTOBER 13 – 4:30 PM
AFSCME Building – 600 W. Lafayette @ Third Ave.
Basement Conference Room “C” – Free Parking in Lot Behind Building