10/01/2012 12:53 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2012

Detroit Water Department Strike: Workers Walk Out Over Proposed Job Cuts

UPDATE: 3:35 p.m.-- The United for Equality & Affirmative Action Legal Defense Fund released a press release Monday afternoon that says Detroit Water and Sewerage workers will fight this morning's injunction against their day-old strike issued by Judge Sean Cox.

"The strike will continue. We are fighting to stop the contracting out of over 80% of our jobs to a company (EMA – see note below) that caused an environmental catastrophe in Toronto. The workers have been demanding better staffing, training and equipment to improve water quality for years, and management has always lent a deaf ear. Now, with the disingenuous claim of 'environmental protection' they are simply union busting and privatizing,” said Michael Mulholland, AFSCME Local 207 Secretary Treasurer in the release.

The release ties the work of EMA, the consulting firm which signed a four-year, no-bid contract valued at $48 million with the Detroit Water Department, to flooding issues in Toronto.

"The city of Toronto hired the EMA Group in 1996 to revamp its water department, and eventually cut large numbers of its sewage plant workforce. In June of this year, Toronto’s subways and many neighborhoods experienced massive flooding due largely to sewage back-ups during a rainstorm. Such floods have been commonplace since the cutbacks," the release says.

According to the release, Scheff, Washington & Driver, attorneys for AFSCME Local 207, have filed motions to dissolve the TRO and for Judge Cox to recuse himself from deciding any matter related to DWSD’s request for injunctive relief against the strike.

“Judge Cox is acting as DWSD’s head of labor relations, completely beyond the bounds of the Clean Water Act and then claiming that he can simultaneously act as an impartial judge over DWSD’s conduct in relation to this strike. This is a huge overreach, making a mockery of any form of democratic protections for the rights of workers to bargain collectively,” said John Riehl, President of AFSCME Local 207 in the statement.

UPDATE: 3:20 p.m.-- Lawyers for an AFSCME local chapter which had several members strike yesterday say a temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox is illegal.

Around 40 workers from Detroit's Department of Water and Sewerage walked off the job Sunday in response to proposed job cuts.

Judge Cox's order prevents AFSCME members or anyone else from interfering with the water department's operations in respect to a threatened strike or work stoppage.

AFSCME Local 207 Attorneys George Washington and Shanta Driver believe Judge Cox's action is a conflict of interest because of a prior order he issued last November which affected the department's labor policies.

"It's unconscionable," Driver told The Huffington Post on Monday afternoon. "He took it upon himself to to rewrite the conditions of work to define what the relationship of the workers to the union would be. He's dramatically involved with the process."

The attorneys will appeal the November order in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals next Tuesday. Driver said they will also make an emergency appeal before the court to disqualify Judge Cox from the case, if he does not disqualify himself.

UPDATE: 1:08 p.m.-- U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox issued a temporary strike injunction Monday morning, prohibiting Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) workers from interfering with the DWSD's operations.

About 40 employees walked off the job Sunday morning to strike against proposed job cuts.

Bob Warfield a spokesman for Detroit's Mayor Dave Bing said in a release that the mayor was pleased with the judge's ruling.

"It is imperative that there be no interruption in the service or an impact on the quality of water provided to our citizens or any negative impact on the environment," he said.

Attorneys for AFSCME Local 207 have scheduled a press conference at noon Monday to respond to Judge Cox's temporary injunction, which they believe to be an illegal restraining order.

A hearing for a permanent injunction is scheduled for October 11.

PREVIOUSLY: About 40 workers from Detroit's waste water treatment plant walked off the job Sunday morning to picket against proposed job cuts, the Detroit News reports.

In September, the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners approved a four-year $48 million no-bid contract with the Minnesota-based EMA consulting firm, which has proposed cutting the department's staff by 81 percent.

The action follows a strike authorization approved by AFSCME Local 207, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department's largest union, on Sept. 27 in the event that contract negotiations failed, Voice of Detroit reports. Local 2920, which represents clerical and other DWSD staff, authorized a similar proposal on Sept. 25.

AFSCME Local 207 President John Riehl told The Huffington Post in April that the local had been considering a strike in regards to a deal authorized by U.S. District Judge Sean Cox, as well as the signing of the Detroit's consent agreement with the state of Michigan.

"Either we go on strike and take a more combative position or they destroy us. There's going to be a lot of conflict coming up -- a lot of union contracts to negotiate," he said.

Last year Judge Cox authorized an arrangement giving suburban residents more input over the Detroit Water Board. The city's consent agreement includes a plan to restructure city services and collective bargaining agreements.

The city's water department provides drinking water to 4.3 million residents in Detroit and 126 neighboring Southeast Michigan communities.



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