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Detroit Judge Won't End Strike; Hearings Continue

July 19, 1986|BOB SECTER and STEPHANIE DROLL | Times Staff Writers

DETROIT — A judge on Friday refused to order a halt to a three-day-old strike of garbage collectors and thousands of other municipal workers here, but she scheduled more arguments today on the city's request that employees who provide critical health and safety services be forced back to work.

Meanwhile, both sides seemed far apart as negotiations continued over a salary dispute that has shut down many public services, stranded 200,000 bus riders and each day left 5,000 tons of new, uncollected garbage stewing on the streets in a blistering summer heat wave.

City elections director Ed Wilson also warned that even a short strike may make it impossible to prepare the polls for Michigan's Aug. 5 primary. "If we don't have people back by Monday you can virtually forget it," he said.

Offers No Explanation

Wayne County Circuit Judge Sharon Finch did not explain why she turned down the city's request for an injunction that would have ended the strike. But she continued to hear testimony on another city plea for a partial back-to-work order involving so-called "essential" workers, such as emergency telephone operators, chemists who purify drinking water, health inspectors and civilian jail guards.

Detroit Mayor Coleman Young says his administration cannot afford the workers' demand for a 26% pay hike spread over three years. Instead, he has offered a package that could increase salaries anywhere from 2% to 18% over that period, tying raises to the health of the city treasury.

But members of the striking American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 say they deserve more money after agreeing to years of austerity contracts to help the city recover from a fiscal crunch that saw it go from near bankruptcy in 1981 to a healthy cash surplus last year. Fueling the dispute is widespread resentment over hefty pay hikes for top city officials recently approved by an independent board. Young's salary soared by $36,000 to $115,000 a year.

'Thumbing His Nose'

"He's thumbing his nose at us and that's an insult," griped Doris Hill, 31, an $18,000-a-year typist, as she marched a picket line outside city hall. "He took 44% so he can't say we don't have no money . . . We're all peons."

The city payroll totals about 19,000 workers, including 6,000 police and firefighters forbidden to strike under Michigan law. Technically, only the 7,000 members of AFSCME employed by the city are on strike, but officials of the union claim 90% of other civilian workers are honoring their picket lines, an estimate so far unchallenged by officials.

Though strikers claimed Young would ultimately be forced to knuckle under to their demands, the walkout hardly seemed to have a numbing effect on the Motor City. Police reported no unusual traffic problems despite the halt in bus service, perhaps because industry in this heavily blue-collar community is dispersed throughout the suburbs rather than concentrated in a central core.

Trash Starts to Rise

Little hillocks of trash began to rise from the top of bins in some parks and other city facilities, but serious pickup problems such as those experienced in Philadelphia during its current garbage workers strike have yet to materialize. Since regular trash removal is only provided here once a week, many homes and businesses have yet to miss their turn.

To avoid health threats such as those posed in Philadelphia, officials have set aside six vacant lots where citizens may dump their trash and have hired a private contractor to haul it away from those sites. Friday, a steady procession of grumbling, garbage-toting drivers wheeled up to some of the lots, but by mid-afternoon one facility in southwest Detroit was dotted only by a scant 15 plastic bags full of waste.

Little strike-related violence has been reported and police have made only 10 arrests, the majority for blocking access to public facilities.

Delayed Financial Pinch

Barring an early settlement, the strikers are not expected to feel the financial pinch from their action for a week or more. Before manning their picket lines Friday, many got in line to pick up checks covering work for the first two weeks of July.

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