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Detroit Officials Refuse to Reopen Talks : Hopes Fading for a Quick End to Strike; Mayor Hints of Firings

July 30, 1986|JAMES RISEN | Times Staff Writer

DETROIT — Prospects for a quick end to the strike that has crippled Detroit's bus service and garbage collection worsened Tuesday when city officials refused to resume negotiations with union leaders representing 7,000 city workers who overwhelmingly rejected a tentative settlement Monday.

Clearly surprised by the employees' landslide vote against the tentative three-year pact, Mayor Coleman A. Young told a news conference that the city has no plans yet to reopen talks with leaders of the striking union.

For the first time in the two-week-old strike, he raised the possibility of firings. He said that if the city successfully wins a judge's back-to-work order and strikers still refuse to return, "I'd have to give (firings) serious consideration."

May Go to High Court

The city has sought back-to-work orders without success from a Wayne County Circuit Court judge and a state appeals court panel. Robert Berg, Young's press secretary, said the city's lawyers were pondering whether to seek such an order from the Michigan Supreme Court or return to the circuit judge.

Berg said the city wants to let the "dust settle" in the wake of the rank-and-file rejection before resuming talks. He called it "ridiculous" for strikers to think they can get any more money from the city when contract talks do resume.

Union leaders called the city's refusal to reopen talks "foot-dragging."

"We waited for one hour to meet with the city," said Jim Glass, president of Council 25 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the striking workers. "They never arrived and we are still waiting to get back to the table." Glass called for binding arbitration to settle the walkout, but Young said he would be "bitterly opposed" to an outsider dictating wage terms to the city.

Garbage Continues to Mount

With no end to the strike in sight, the city's uncollected garbage was continuing to pile up. At least 50,000 tons of garbage have accumulated since the strike began July 16, and the city is still only able to offer limited garbage disposal at six central dumping sites.

While the strike has not affected police or fire services, about 200,000 commuters have also been stranded by the shutdown of the city's bus line. Detroit's sanitation workers and bus drivers are not members of the striking AFSCME council, but their unions are honoring its picket lines.

After bargainers for the two sides hammered out a new three-year agreement late Friday, it appeared that the first city strike since 1980 in the nation's sixth-largest city was coming to an end. But by a 3-1 margin, rank-and-file union members voted Monday to reject the contract, saying its wage increases were too small.

The contract called for raises of 5% in the first year (plus a $500 bonus), 2.5% in the second and a third-year pay hike tied to the city's fiscal health. Union members said they could not believe their leaders would settle for so little, after initially demanding a 26% wage hike over three years. But the clause that angered workers the most would have given the city the right to take back a portion of their raise if the city's fiscal health declined in the third year of the agreement.

Calls Contract 'Insult'

"To me, that contract was an insult," said Betty Smith, a city building attendant who was walking the picket line outside City Hall Tuesday. "I didn't think it was fair."

"Except for a 2% raise in 1980, we've been without a raise for 12 years," added Halbert Harper, a maintenance worker and union steward. "So now, we're willing to stay out as long as it takes to get something."

Union members were also angry because Mayor Young received a 44% raise in January that made him the nation's highest-paid mayor at $115,000 a year. "Everybody was upset by Young's raise," said Smith. "He doesn't care what the people think anymore."

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