On May 4th, AFSCME Local 207’s bargaining team met with management in our first formal contract negotiations. We meet again on the 18th. Management is demanding a second-class Jim Crow contract. It is clear that management thinks they can just take away the rights and benefits we worked years to win. If they don’t think we’ll strike, they won’t bargain. The members will have to prove them wrong.
UNION’S DEMANDS: Local 207 proposed contract language including pay raises of $2.00/hour in the first year, $1.50/hour in the second year, and a $1.00/hour raise in the third year. We proposed restitution of longevity, and leaving healthcare insurance and retirement as is.
WAGES: They offered us no pay raise. In recognition of our union’s strength, management is not seeking direct wage cuts (though inflation has been cutting our wages for years). Instead, they to deduct more from our checks for new inferior health insurance and pension plans. Management wants to reduce our spendable income by about 10-15! That’s the same as a pay cut!
DURATION OF CONTRACT: They want a one-year contract. This so that the Director Sue McCormick and EMA consultants that she hired for over $300/hour can take a year to redo our job classifications and work rules, combine job duties, speed up the pace of work and reduce the numbers of DWSD workers, then have another go at us in 2013
PENSIONS: Those hired after July 1, 2012 would have a Defined Contribution pension plan, as opposed to our current Defined Benefit plan. If you were hired before July 1, 2012, they want you to pay 5% of your base pay rate to stay in our current DB plan. In management’s proposal, the only way to avoid the 5% pay check deduction would be to trade your DB pension for an inferior DC plan. The DC plan would reduce our pension to an annuity-type account, subject to the ups and downs of the financial markets and limited to what we could afford to contribute towards it. It would mean about a third less to live on once you retire, and if you live long enough, or have to spend more than you expected, you would be left penniless in your old age. Our DB plan is much more secure, based on years of service, final wages and a multiplication factor which is part of our current contract. It’s paid out for as you or your beneficiary lives. Our annuity plan is just a supplement to our pensions. Management’s proposal would essentially convert our whole pension plan to an annuity or retirement saving account, and devastate our basic pensions.
HEALTHCARE: As we’ve said earlier, management wants to increase our total costs for health insurance by around 90% over the course of your employment. This is unacceptable.
UNION BUSTING: They want to strip our contract of anything that is out of sync with Federal Judge Cox’s 2011 order, including union officers with time off to do union work, seniority in promotions, beneficial past practices, and protections from privatization and subcontracting. They want to deny you the right to talk to your steward unless you’re being disciplined. They want discipline (including for attendance) to stay on your record for 36 months rather than the current 14 months, setting you up for further discipline and stopping you from being promoted. Management proposed a one-year probation period for new hires during which time they could be fired for anything without union representation. They even want Local 207 and Council 25 to drop our legal appeals of the Cox’s blatant union busting order!
We cannot let them take away our standard of living, especially since DWSD is not broke and our pension funds are secure. We will have to strike or let them loot our futures. Federal Judge Cox’s order for separate DWSD bargaining is an attempt to isolate Local 207 from the rest of the city workers. His attack on Local 207’s leadership and our union rights shows that our union is the only power that puts fear in the hearts of Cox, Snyder and Bing, and behind them, the rich white corporations who are attempting to “restructure” Detroit by smashing all vestiges of black power and workers power in a city that won’t quit fighting. The recent school walkouts show that Detroit has the will to fight.
The Water Department is where we make our stand. This is our opportunity to lead our majority-black, proud working-class city to victory against the corporations and their lackey politicians. If Local 207 members take up this challenge and fight not only for our union contract, but for the future of the Water Department and the city of Detroit, we can stop the vicious attacks against us, throw out the New Jim Crow plan our enemies have for us, and mount a fight that will change history.
Referring to unions, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that power means forcing someone to do what he doesn’t want to do. Management doesn’t want to treat us or Detroit with any respect. We must recognize our power and use it now to force them to do what they don’t want to do.