Judge denies union request to block Wayne Co. wage cuts

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — County officials say a federal judge has denied a request from a union representing more than 2,500 Wayne County workers to block any wage and benefit changes made under the county’s consent agreement with the state.

The decision comes on the heels of a restraining order issued by a Wayne Circuit Court judge last week to block wage and benefits changes for one of the union’s affiliates, Wayne County Sheriff Supervisory Local 3317, last week. The county said it would file an emergency appeal.

“We are pleased that the court of appeals acted swiftly to vacate the trial courts temporary restraining order,” Zenna Elhasan, director of Corporation Counsel for the county said in a statement Thursday. “We are also pleased the federal court denied a request for a temporary restraining order filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25.

“These decisions permit Wayne County to continue its restructuring efforts and move closer to ending the financial emergency.”

AFSCME Council 25 filed the federal lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Wayne County and County Executive Warren Evans were named as defendants.

Neither Al Garrett, president of AFSCME Council 25, nor Jamil Akhtar, an attorney representing the union on the case, could be reached for comment Thursday.

In the suit, the union alleged the defendants “have illegally bound themselves by a ‘consent agreement’ with the state’s Executive Branch,” and that “protected and accrued benefits will be dramatically slashed or terminated, contrary to the U.S. Constitution.”

In June, Evans asked the state to declare a financial emergency and support his request to enter into a consent agreement to help fix the finances of Michigan's most populous county.

Wayne County’s commission approved a consent agreement with the state last month and it went into effect on Aug. 21.

The agreement grants Evans the powers of an emergency manager in contract talks – meaning he can impose terms such as lower wages, pension cuts and employee contribution increases if he and the unions can’t reach a deal after 30 days of good-faith bargaining.

Evans has said repeatedly he prefers to reach agreements with the county’s unions at the bargaining table.

In other county news, the county’s commission Thursday approved Evans’ proposed $1.56 billion county budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The vote, held during the 15-member commission’s regular full board meeting, was unanimous. Commissioner Burton Leland, D-Detroit, was excused.

Officials said the budget is a 7 percent decrease from the county’s $1.68 billion budget for the previous year. Next year’s budget is projected to be even smaller at $1.45 billion. Wayne County’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Commissioner Joseph Palamara, D-Grosse Ile, said Thursday “there were difficult decisions to make and we made them.”

Commissioner Diane Webb, D-Livonia, said she approved the budget because “it’s such an honest budget.”

“This budget, as brutal as it is, is the real deal,” she said.

Evans has said his budget eliminates what’s left of the county’s $52 million structural deficit, decreases unfunded health care liabilities by 76 percent, reduces the need to divert funds from departments to cover general fund expenditures and creates a pathway to solvency.

He thanked commissioners for approving the budget in a statement Thursday.

“It is a realistic and balanced budget that aligns with my administration’s recovery plan,” he said. “Today marks another positive step toward improving the financial health of our county.”

In addition to the structural deficit, Wayne County is also struggling with a pension system that’s underfunded by $910.5 million.

Evans asked the state in June to declare a financial emergency and intervene to help fix the finances of Michigan’s most populous county. County commissioners in August approved a consent agreement.


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