10/03/2012 11:02 am ET Updated Oct 03, 2012

Detroit Water Department Strike Causes Union Split Between AFSCME Council, Local

An ongoing strike at a Detroit water waste treatment plant has led to infighting among different factions of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the government union responsible for workers in the city's water department. AFSCME Council 25, which represents locals in the larger union, is urging workers to return to their posts, while AFSCME Local 207 says its membership is continuing the strike.


More than 30 workers walked off the job Sunday morning at a southwest Detroit water treatment plant to strike against proposed job cuts and to encourage Detroiters and other union members to fight for dignity and better living standards. U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox issued a temporary restraining order Monday morning preventing union members and anyone else from interfering with the water department's operations in respect to a threatened strike or work stoppage.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) on Monday sent letters to 34 workers who participated in the walk out notifying them that they had been suspended without pay and would be terminated on October 10 for endangering public health and safety. Employees have until October 5 to request a hearing to contest that decision. According to a release, the letter also ordered them not to enter any DWSD property or represent themselves as employees in good standing with the department.

Donna Stern, a spokewoman for local 207 told The Huffington Post that workers who have received termination notices are continuing on with the strike.

"Their only hope of getting their jobs back is to build the strike," she said "There's an injunction against every strike. If workers obeyed every injunction, there'd never be a strike, there'd never be a movement, there'd never be a union."

On Tuesday Michigan AFSCME Council 25 released a statement asking all of their union members in the City of Detroit Water and Sewage Department to comply with Judge Cox's orders.

“We understand the frustration felt by the hard working men and women in the water department. Poor working conditions, lack of equipment and inadequate staffing levels have pushed people to the breaking point," said Al Garrett, President of Michigan AFSCME Council 25. “Our hope is that common sense will prevail in court so that working people do not have to take to the streets in an effort to protect the public.”

At a Detroit City Council meeting last April, Garrett took a very different position on whether striking over negotiations was a useful tactic forDetroit's consent agreement with the state.

"I’m saying that our 3,000 city workers who are left do have rights, and we will take this to the streets," he said in a speech reported by Voice of Detroit. "You think we can’t, but I was President when we went out for 20 days in 1986."

Garrett later adopted a wait-and-see approach to allow legal and legislative options to take their course in regards to the consent agreement.

John Riehl, President of Local 207 didn't have much to say about Council 25's request for workers to comply with Judge Cox's order.

"It's not clear and we'll let the lawyers deal with the details of any kind of things like that," he told The Huffington Post at the picket line Tuesday.

Attorneys with AFSCME local 207 say Judge Cox's temporary restraining order is not legal, because of his prior legal involvement with the Department of Water and Sewerage. They plan to challenge the order in court.



Detroit Water Workers Strike