AFSCME Local 2920 President Thomas B. Johnson II address union leaders at Nov. 10, 2011 press conference opposing Judge Sean Cox’s water department takeover


  • AFSCME Co. 25 files motion to intervene, bar contract changes
  • City union leaders join to support AFSCME
  • Rally set for Thurs. Nov. 17, 4:30 p.m. at CAYMC 

By Diane Bukowski

Nov. 14, 2011 

DETROIT – In the wake of a mass press conference held by city union leaders Nov. 10, Michigan AFSCME Council 25 on Nov. 14 filed a motion to intervene in the federal lawsuit against the water department and to bar massive changes to AFSCME’s contract with the city. 

The union has also called on union members, the community, and Occupy Detroit to rally Thurs. Nov.17 at 4:30 p.m. outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center,then march to the Guardian Building, where embattled Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano’s offices are located. 

George W. Bush appointed Cox to federal bench

 On Nov. 4, U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox issued a broad order attacking the rights of workers, Detroit residents, and the City Council with respect to the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) under union contracts and the City Charter.  He also barred actions brought with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission and state courts challenging his ruling. 

(Click on http://voiceofdetroit.net/2011/11/10/cox-axes-detroiters-control-over-water-department/ for complete details.) 

During the press conference, union leaders likened Cox to a slavemaster. 

Cox and Detroit

“Cox is treating Detroit like it’s a slave plantation he gets to run,” said Attorney George Washington. Susan Glaser, president of the Senior Accountants, Analysts and Appraisers Association (SAAA), compared his naming of a “Special Master” to the appointment of a plantation overseer. 

The motion, filed by Attorney Herbert Sanders of the Sanders Law Firm, contends that Cox’s Nov. 4 order violates the contracts and takings clauses of the U.S. Constitution. It also demands that Cox permanently bar “the modification, amendment, or termination of the AFSCME collective bargaining agreement.” 

(Click on Cox Co 25 motion to intervene 11 14 11 to read entire motion.)

It notes that AFSCME was never contacted by Cox regarding his changes to its contract. 

It says, “None of the recommended changes to the AFSCME collective bargaining agreement are even remotely connected to enforcement of the Clean Water Act.” The  federal lawsuit against DWSD, #77-71100,  under which Cox acted, was filed in 1977, specifically to address violations of that Act.

Atty. George Washington, Local 207 officers John RIehl and Mike Mulholland announce lawsuit against Synagro contract Jan. 26, 2099

“We are standing in defense of our city workers, members, and residents,” John Riehl, president of AFSCME Local 207, which represents 1,000 DWSD workers, said Nov. 10. “Detroit deserves better treatment of its workers and residents.”  (Click on Riehl declaration  to read Riehl’s affidavit filed in Cox’a court.) 

Riehl noted, “Our union was highly instrumental in exposing and defeating the Synagro contract, brought by the Kwame Kilpatrick administration. Judge Cox’s order threatens to reinstate the same corruption that existed then.” 

The U.S. Justice Department has brought extensive charges against Kilpatrick, former Water Department Director Victor Mercado, Kilpatrick aides, City Council member Monica Conyers and city council aides, among others, related to the Synagro contract. 

BOWC chair James Fausone, representing Wayne County

Cox’s order largely transfers contracting and rate setting powers to the seven-member Detroit Board of Water Commissioners (BOWC). It is now dominated by three suburban commissioners because they have veto power on contract and rate votes, which require a supermajority. Many, like BOWC chair James Fausone, representing Wayne County, have ties to water contractors. 

The entire Wayne County administration under Ficano is also now under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department largely related to allegedly corrupt contracting practices. 

Riehl said the city administration has caused many problems with Clean Water Act compliance by understaffing the water department. 

“There is a brain and experience drain because of attacks on pension rights,” he explained. “Every week, 10 0r more DWSD workers retire before more attacks come. The real shortages started under Kilpatrick and [former Water Department director Victor] Mercado with lay-offs and privatization.” 

Former DWSD director Victor Mercado and former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, both under federal indictment

Kilpatrick laid off hundreds of DWSD workers in 2006 after Local 207 voted against a take-back contract. 

The Council 25 motion contends among other declarations, “The collective bargaining agreement . . . encourages management to maintain a full staff of regular workers capable of running the plant on a daily basis. Daily operations and maintenance are subjected to better quality control and greater collective knowledge and skills when this work is done in-house.”

 Thomas B. Johnson II is president of AFSCME Local 2920, which represents clerical and other city-wide classifications at DWSD. 

Local 2920 Pres. Thomas B. Johnson II

“There is too much management and too many consultants in the Water Department, who have carte blanche to do whatever they want to do,” he said. “The Water Department has never been under a deficit so there has been no reason to lay-off our workers.” 

Cox’s order bars city workers from other departments from using their seniority rights to bump into DWSD if they are laid off, as Mayor Bing is threatening. It thus represents an attack on ALL city workers, not just those at DWSD, Johnson agreed. 

“Cox is trying to bust our unions,” Dempsey Addison, president of the Association of Professional and Technical Employees (APTE). “We are not going to stand for this. Nobody has absolute power, not even a judge.” 

APTE Pres. Dempsey Addison at first Occupy Detroit march

Washington said that if Cox denies the union’s motion to intervene, “We will be in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 24 hours.” 

Cox held a “status conference” on the AFSCME motion Nov. 14. Further details were not available at press time.

Detroit’s City Council earlier voted to hire its own attorney to advise it on Cox’s order, which overrules many of its powers, but to date has filed no action. Cox appointed Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh and President Pro-Tem Gary Brown to a four-member committee which issued a “Committee Plan” to him Nov. 2 recommending many of the changes he ordered. 


Click on http://voiceofdetroit.net/2011/09/14/sean-cox-right-wing-affiliations/ for further info on the Judge.

The Federalist Society’s Student Division presented this speech and commentary at the 2008 Annual Student Symposium on March 8, 2008.

Speech and Commentary: An Originalist Judge and the Media

–Justice Stephen Markman, Michigan Supreme Court
–Prof. Richard Primus, University of Michigan Law School
–Mr. Pete Williams, NBC News
–Moderator: Judge Sean Cox, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan


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