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500 layoffs looming for Detroit employees

A DDOT bus in Detroit.
Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio
Snyder discussed DDOT busses during his townhall meeting online Wednesday.

Nobody thought fixing Detroit’s debt woes was gonna be easy.

But these days, it might be especially painful for city workers and their families.

Some 2,000 pink slips have already gone out in the last few years. And now, another 500 cuts are scheduled for February.

It’s already worrying union leaders like Leamon Wilson. The president of the AFSCME Local 312 told the Detroit News that more cuts could cripple the city’s bus service. “You can’t deliver the service…It was already functioning at a bare minimum. I don’t see how anything is going to be functioning.”

Police and firefighters also say their ranks are being slashed just as crime and arson are on the rise. Just outside the city, Warren fire commissioner Skip McAdams says it’s a perfect storm.

“We don’t have the staffing to handle the increased workload. This year, we’re gonna exceed 15,000 incidents. In 2008, we responded to some 12,000 incidents. So my numbers of employees have decreased, and my responses have increased by over 2,000 incidents. The work doesn’t go away, there’s just fewer people to do an increasing amount of work.

That puts us at risk for injuries. We still have to get the job done, it just takes longer. There’s more damage to structures, and response time increases. We just didn’t have enough manpower to handle the call volume.”

But it could be months before the full effects of the layoffs are felt. As more of Detroit’s employees lose their jobs, some of them are ending up at homeless shelters. Rachael Williams is the volunteer director at Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.  “A lot of the families that we see got laid off, and maybe were able to find that minimum-wage paying off.

But it’s still not enough to pay the mortgage. So their house will go into foreclosure, and suddenly they don’t have a place to stay.

The more layoffs that we have, and the new trend is for us, you’re going to see more and more families becoming homeless. And I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge for the city of Detroit.”

So far, city officials say they haven’t decided exactly where the cuts will be made. And proponents of the layoffs point out that none of this is what they wanted.

City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown told the Detroit News that at this point, it’s about making city departments more efficient – not larger. “We’re not shedding bodies because we want to, we’re shedding bodies because we have to. We need to restructure our department functions and their processes so they will be able to deliver service with less people.” 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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