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Detroit unions ratify new contracts

AFSCME Council 25 President Al Garrett, at a recent rally to overturn Public Act 4
AFSCME Council 25 President Al Garrett, at a recent rally to overturn Public Act 4

A big coalition of about 30 unions representing Detroit city workers hasratified a new contract.

The workers gave up a lot, including a 10% pay cut, a major health care reorganization, and switching from traditional pensions to defined-contribution retirement plans.

But for a variety of reasons, it’s unclear whether it’s enough to help the city avoid state intervention.

Officials with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) say the new contract will net the city $68 million annually.

Ed McNeill is with AFSCME Council 25 in Detroit. He says this ratification makes it clear there’s no need for a consent agreement or other state intervention, that could give officials broad powers to impose new union contracts.

“We still don’t see a need for a consent decree or an emergency manager," McNeill said. "We’re saying what we put in place will fix the city of Detroit and fix its finances.”

McNeill insists what they’ve agreed to takes care of some demands the state makes in a proposed consent agreement.

“All they did was took what we bargained and put it in the [proposed] consent agreement," McNeill said.  "And said city, you need to agree to do that. The city’s already agreed to do it because it’s in our agreement.”

But many people question whether the new contracts achieve the savings the city needs, especially within the current fiscal year. Detroit is expected to run out of cash within the next two months.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has reached a similar tentative agreement with the city’s police and firefighter unions, but those haven’t been ratified yet.

Under a consent agreement, city officials would have the power to impose union contracts without collective bargaining--if those labor contracts have expired.

The Detroit City Council also need to approve the new contract.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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