The Motor City does battle with unions

Many of Detroit’s unions are livid after a judge ruled that the city is not legally obligated to bargain with the police union, whose service contract recently expired.

Judge Paula Manderfield of the Ingham County Circuit Court ruled against the Detroit Police Officers Association, saying that the city of Detroit may institute a new service agreement with the police union without having to enter into the arduous contract negotiation process. Her ruling also struck down the injunction of a previous court, which would have forced the city to continue their relationship with the police union under the expired contract’s terms.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Murphy, who argued for the state, said that Detroit is not in a financial position to bargain with the police union.

“Detroit could end up with an emergency manager if the city is unable to execute its financial stability agreement with the state,” Murphy told The Detroit News.

With a $260 million cumulative budget deficit and a staggering $7.9 billion long-term debt burden, the city signed a financial stability agreement with the state of Michigan last April, agreeing to institute much needed reforms and get its budget in order.

In the wake of Detroit’s financial crisis, Mayor Dave Bing and Police Chief Ralph Godbee decided to cut 18 percent from the police department’s $414 million budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which began on July 1.

The legal dispute between the city and the Detroit Police Officers Association ramped up after the group’s contract expired on June 30, and the city’s financial stability agreement with the state required Detroit to impose a new contract or re-negotiate the expired contract by July 16.

In this case, Detroit decided to impose a new contract on the police union without entering negotiations, leading several union leaders to file suit, alleging that the city has a legal duty to bargain under Public Act 312.

However, the court rejected the union’s argument and sided with the state and Murphy who argued that Public Act 312 only applies to current contracts. Because the police union’s contract had expired, the statute was inapplicable.

“I don’t believe the public interest would be served if the injunction was granted,” Judge Manderfield told The Detroit News. “Forcing the city into binding arbitration could hinder the city’s economic recovery.”

The Pew Center on the States reported that various city and state officials have named union work rules and regulations as a key obstacle to more efficient and effective government for Detroit.

A 2010 report conducted by the global consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., showed union work rules and a change-averse culture were partially to blame for poor service from Detroit law enforcement.

The report found that less than one-third of Detroit’s 3,000 police officers were on patrol at any given time, and many were guilty of slow response times.

Even collective bargaining rights supporter City Council President Charles Pugh remarked on the poor performance of law enforcement personnel belonging to the Detroit Police Officers Association.

Pugh remarked that many unions end up preventing reforms that would improve services and help save money for Detroit.

“You’re a 32-year-old, badge-and-gun; sworn-to-protect police officer and you’re answering phones and getting coffee for your boss?” Pugh told Stateline news. “Get out of here. That has to change.”

Despite worries from Detroit Police Officers Association President Joe Duncan and other union leaders over terms of employment for union members and threats to collective bargaining rights, the city and the state are standing their ground after Judge Manderfield’s ruling.

“The public interest here is that the city of Detroit survives,” Murphy said. “That’s what this stability agreement is about.”

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