During his recent State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama mentioned Detroit twice in his praise of the recovery of the automobile industry. It’s too bad that recovery has yet to gain any traction in the city and its predominately African-American community.
The city’s economic condition used to be a barometer indicating how things were faring nationally-if Detroit sneezes, the rest of the country comes down with pneumonia. That’s how important GM, Chrysler and Ford were to the gross national product.
Only the word gross has any utility in Motown nowadays, with the city on the verge of total meltdown and facing the prospect of being overseen by an emergency financial manager (EMF).
Mayor Dave Bing is doing all he can to stave off such an eventuality, and earlier this week it was reported that he had just about brokered a tentative agreement with a number of significant unions.
The emphasis should be placed on tentative, though, because while apparently 25 of the city’s 48 unions are willing to go along with the mayor’s plans to halt the arrival of the EMF, there hasn’t been any solid confirmation yet.
The mayor is seeking to trim $102 million from the city’s budget to keep the state from stepping in to assume control.
“But until the city’s uniformed workers, mainly the fire and police department-until they join the tentative deal, it’s of little consequence,” said Richard Lewis, a city employee. “The police alone have a budget that represents 40 percent of the overall budget, $420 million a year. And most of them live outside the city.”
On Tuesday, labor leaders released a statement providing some details about the ongoing negotiations. “Mayor Bing has met with key members of the major unions, both uniform and non-uniform,” the statement said. “Negotiations are ongoing.”
“Which isn’t saying a whole lot,” said David Allen, a longtime activist and former city employee. “I don’t think the state is anxious to take over the city, and if it did, all hell would break loose. Governor [Rick] Snyder has put together a committee to evaluate the situation and see what can be done.”
Along with the mayor, several community groups have demonstrated and mounted a petition drive to keep the state at bay. “One movement has collected more than 200,000 signatures to stop the state’s intentions,” Lewis said. “They only need 160,000, but they want to have more than enough because they know they are going to be challenged by the Republicans.”
Three weeks ago, a massive protest march arrived within a half-mile of the governor’s house in a gated community. “That’s about as far as they could go,” said Allen. “I think that all sides will settle on a consent decree, though I’m not exactly sure about the details of that.”
A consent decree would come from the state if there are not full concessions from the unions, and would privatize services, restructure the government and impose a contract on employees when most of the union contracts expire on June 30, according to a story in the Detroit Free Press.
But union concessions may not be enough, some City Council members assert. Some members of the council have proposed much more drastic cuts, including closing all of the city’s recreation centers, privatizing all ambulances, reducing the salaries of employees making more than $100,000 a year by 15 percent and even hiking fees on bus fares and garbage removal.
Both Lewis and Allen agree that Detroit is a mess, from the city services to the school system. “And it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Lewis insisted.