10/08/2012 09:53 am ET

Detroit Water Department Strike Ends, Union Says 36 Fired Workers Will Be Reinstated

A five-day strike at a Detroit wastewater treatment facility is over, according to the union local responsible for the action. AFSCME Local 207 announced in a release Thursday that its executive board had voted to end the strike. They also said that 36 workers slated to be fired for participating in the walkout would be reinstated. The department had given workers suspended for striking until Oct. 5 to request a hearing to appeal their terminations.

Members of the union left their posts and started a picket line Sunday morning to protest proposed job cuts and to encourage Detroit residents and other union members to fight for better living conditions. In September, the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners approved a four-year $48 million no-bid contract with the Minnesota-based consulting firm EMA, which has proposed cutting the department's staff by 81 percent.

“This is a victory for the City of Detroit because it has set the precedent that unions, the community and the City of Detroit can stand up against the whole array of powers-that-be and win.” AFSCME Local 207 President John Riehl said in a release.

U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox had issued a temporary restraining order Monday morning preventing union members and anyone else from interfering with the water department's operations. Attorneys with the union responded that Cox's order was illegal because of his prior involvement with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). The local's lawyers are scheduled to appear in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals next Tuesday to challenge an order concerning DWSD labor relations issued by Cox last year. The DWSD has been under federal supervision since 1977 due to a lawsuit related to compliance with the Clean Water Act.

On Tuesday AFSCME Council 25 broke ranks with the local, urging workers to comply with Judge Cox's temporary restraining order.

According to the Detroit News, sludge hauling trucks had refused to cross the union picket early on in the strike and smokestacks had idled, indicating a low rate of waste processing.

Water department spokeswoman Mary Alfonso told the News Wednesday that the facility was compliant and that operational water quality was good.

80 percent of workers on the plant's afternoon shift had checked into work on Wednesday, the Detroit Free Press reports citing state monitors.

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

A spokesperson with the city did not respond to requests for comment in time to be included in this article.



Detroit Water Workers Strike