Union leaders speak out against Detroit’s Proposal A

Christine Ferretti

Detroit — Union leaders representing skilled trade groups, schoolteachers and public safety workers are urging city voters to turn down a grassroots Nov. 8 ballot initiative they say will drive jobs out of the city.

The coalition of nearly 20 groups gathered Tuesday to ask Detroiters to reject Proposal A, a community-driven measure that aims to lock in protections for residents as part of large-scale development projects, weeks before the initiative and a dueling City Council-approved ordinance, Proposal B, go to voters.

The union groups argue the community plan would create a “poorly defined” maze of rules for businesses in Detroit. Among its flaws, they contend, the proposed ordinance fails to lay out a timetable for a process or specifics on the makeup and selection of committees companies would meet with to work out benefit plans.

“Proposal A would stop our city’s comeback dead in its tracks. It’s a jobs killer that would hurt our community and something we simply cannot afford,” said Mike Jackson, executive secretary-treasurer for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights.

“It’s not a real community benefits agreement. Proposal A makes businesses jump through confusing hoops.”

Jackson, who led off the news conference on the Woodward side of the Little Caesars Arena slated to open next year, added: “It will make businesses head north of Eight Mile to other cities where communities will welcome their investment and their jobs with open arms and Detroit residents and neighborhoods will pay the price.”

A community benefits agreement ordinance has been debated in Detroit for years. Such agreements, often negotiated by developers and either the city or neighboring community groups, address issues including job opportunities, traffic, environmental concerns and other spinoff development.

Both proposals going to voters Nov. 8 seek guarantees and other protections for communities where major development is planned. But the ordinances differ on enforcement, levels of investment and city involvement.

If both measures pass, whichever proposal receives the most votes will be put into place. A voter could vote yes on both community benefits proposals, say no to both, or vote one up and the other down.

The community plan, led by Rise Together Detroit, mirrors an ordinance previously proposed by Council President Brenda Jones, who initiated the effort years ago in hopes of securing a voice for the community with major projects.

It calls for developers to provide community benefits if their projects have a public and/or private investment of more than $15 million or they’re seeking a tax break from the city of at least $300,000.

The council plan, crafted by Councilman Scott Benson with input from various stakeholders, requires developers to provide community benefits for projects worth at least $75 million or for those that would expand or renovate structures where a developer seeks city-owned land or tax breaks of at least $1 million.

Under the council ordinance, a Neighborhood Advisory Council of residents would be set up for areas affected by development with appointments from the city’s planning director and in consultation with the council. But developers would not be required to enter into legally binding agreements with the neighborhood advisory groups, other than the city to fulfill the requirements of the ordinance.

In contrast, the community’s plan would bar the council and other city officials from having direct involvement in selecting community representatives. It also empowers residents to pursue legal action on their own if deals aren’t upheld.

The council voted to have its plan added to the ballot. But Jones, Mary Sheffield and Raquel Castaneda-Lopez voted no.

Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a member of Rise Together Detroit, argued the council plan undermines the community by stripping its ability to have a legally enforceable agreement with developers, leaving that power with the city. Tlaib on Tuesday said continued opposition to what community members want is frustrating.

“This is our way of saying we want to be part of the process,” Tlaib said on behalf of the resident group. “The broken promises won’t stop.”

But Detroit Firefighters Association President Mike Nevin said Proposal A will “gut progress.”

“Proposal A is bad business for the city of Detroit,” he said. “We can’t stymie this progress now. We have to move forward.”

All the union groups opposed to Proposal A agreed Tuesday they want community benefits with development projects. Some are advocating for B instead, and others said both plans should be rejected.

“We feel it’s more common sense,” said Jackson, whose union supports Proposal B. “It keeps the mayor’s office and city council engaged in the process.”

But the American Federation of Teachers Michigan said both proposals have to be scrapped.

“We don’t think either of the groups got it right,” AFT of Michigan President David Hecker said on behalf of the union that represents employees in Detroit Public Schools Community District, Wayne State University and Wayne County Community College District. “They should go back and let’s get it right for the city of Detroit.”