DETROIT — Mayor Dave Bing on Tuesday gave some of Detroit’s municipal worker unions 30 days to agree to new contracts that would include pay cuts or risk having the city impose new contract terms without their consent.
Bing told the unions, which represent about 70 percent of the city’s workers, that they need to agree to contracts that would cut wages by 10 percent or submit to the same contract terms agreed to by smaller unions.
Bing told reporters the city loses millions of dollars each day it operates without the pay cuts, and that he will have no choice but to terminate current deals and institute the cuts without union approval.
“There is nothing for us to give up,” Bing said of stagnant talks with some of the city’s larger unions and bargaining units. “We’ve got to get concessions or it won’t work.”
Mayoral appointees and nonunion workers already have taken the pay cuts in the form of 26 unpaid furlough days per year. About a dozen unions and bargaining units either have ratified contracts with the city or reached tentative agreements that include furlough days.
Bing listed those unions during a Tuesday press conference and singled out negotiators for the 3,500-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union for refusing to accept the city’s proposals.
AFSCME Local 207 president John Riehl said Bing has the authority to terminate the current contracts, but there would follow a fact-finding process with the state.
“The mayor is not going to be able to settle a contract with his attitude,” Riehl said. “If he wants to settle a contract, he needs to make his demands something unions can live with. Our members can’t afford to be forced into poverty because the city can’t maintain it’s financial condition.”
But Teamsters Local 214 president Joe Valenti stood with Bing Tuesday and said unions must understand Detroit’s precarious fiscal position.
The 600-member local, which includes truck drivers and heavy equipment operators, ratified its deal Friday. The contract includes three years of concessions, but protects pensions and health care, Valenti said.
“My job is to protect these jobs,” he said. “I thought we came out with the best deal we could get. Anybody who gets laid off in the city of Detroit now, I don’t think they’re coming back.”
Bing was elected in a special May 5 runoff election. He has said the city faces a $300 million budget deficit and could run out of money if concessions aren’t reached.
Past budget mismanagement, a diminishing residential and business tax base, and thousands of auto sector jobs lost in the current economic recession have hit Detroit hard. Detroit is among the nation’s leaders in home foreclosures and has an unemployment rate of at least 23 percent.
Bing had laid off at least 436 workers as of Sept. 24.
More layoffs could be forthcoming. When the time comes to do so, Bing said he would look “very favorably” on decisions by some unions to settle more quickly than others.
“They’ve come to the table to be very supportive early on,” he said.
Bing’s tactics are not uncommon, Wayne State University business professor and national labor expert Marick Masters said.
“They are used to divide the unions and to try and create public support for those unions that have agreed to concessions already,” Masters said.
But the real work, especially with AFSCME, still will come at the negotiating table.
“Both sides are going to have to come to some sort of common ground,” Masters added. “In this economy, with the unemployment conditions in Detroit and with the budget deficit, there is no doubt the employer is in a stronger position.”