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Some striking Detroit water department workers to be fired

34 striking Detroit water department workers have been suspended and will be fired, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department confirmed Tuesday.

The workers believed to have initiated the strike were notified by letter from DWSD director Sue McCormick, according to a statement issued by the water department.

"The letters, sent via certified mail, informed the employees that, on Sunday, September 30, they engaged in gross misconduct that endangered public health and safety by unlawfully abandoning their jobs at the plant. The 34 employees are suspended without pay and their employment will be terminated effective October 10," the statement reads.

It goes on to say the suspended employees can request hearings to contest their terminations, but must do so by Friday.

Shanta Driver, a lawyer for the striking workers, says they will request hearings. But Driver said they’re prepared for that process to be thwarted by federal judge Sean Cox, who has oversight of the department as part of an ongoing environmental case.

Last year, Cox issued an order telling DWSD that it could bypass union contracts, city ordinances and even the city charter to expedite compliance with the Clean Water Act.

“This whole process has just been completely distorted by a dictator of a judge, who think he doesn’t have to give any regard for even the ordinary processes of bargaining a contract," Driver said. "That’s what caused this strike to happen in the first place.”

Driver and other union lawyers will argue Cox has exceeded his authority before the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals next week.

In the meantime, Driver says other striking workers expect similar actions to be taken against them. “There’s all sorts of rumors that there’s another list of people who are going to be terminated," she said.

Members of AFSCME Local 207 have been on strike since Sunday.

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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