Detroit, Emergency Managers — August 4, 2013 at 11:38 am

Detroit Emergency Manager Orr: Union workers were “dumb, lazy, happy and rich”


Uh, Mr. Orr? You’re doing it wrong

Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr had some choice insulting words about union workers in Detroit. In the interview, he had this to say:

For a long time the city was dumb, lazy, happy and rich…Detroit has been the center of more change in the 20th century than I dare say virtually any other city, but that wealth allowed us to have a covenant [that held] if you had an eighth grade education, you’ll get 30 years of a good job and a pension and great health care, but you don’t have to worry about what’s going to come.

What Mr. Orr seems to forget is that it was the rise of the manufacturing industry in the United States along with the labor unions that created the middle class. The men and women he degrades with this callous statement worked hard every day in the factories that built things in this country. To describe them as dumb, lazy, and rich is beyond absurd and is incredibly insulting. Detroit’s problems don’t stem from union workers being able to make a decent wage with benefits and a pension. This country is strong, both economically and socially, because workers had enough money in their pockets to buy the things they were building.

Nobody that I know of thinks that its still possible to get a high-wage job without a good education nor does anyone feel entitled to that sort of job without that education as Orr seems to be suggesting. Nor is this in any way the cause of Detroit’s current financial catastrophe. Anyone who blames the workers for the problems of Detroit, a city that has lost nearly two thirds of its population over the past couple of decades, clearly has no clue about the reality of the situation. It’s ridiculous for him to even make a statement like this — it’s apropos of absolutely nothing.

In the same interview, Orr calls the unions’ attempts to protect retirees and city workers as “fifth grade stuff”:

I went to the labor class and asked, ‘Please, let’s negotiate.’ They sued the governor and treasurer. Next week another union joined them on that lawsuit. The next week, they sued me and the governor,” he recalls. “How long do I have to stay on the schoolyard when you’re hitting me on the upside of the head and then you run to the teacher and say I won’t be your best friend? This is fifth grade stuff.

That’s a bit of revisionist history and a quick one, at that. Union leaders tell a different story:

“I think it’s really important for the media to report the hypocrisy and the dishonesty that Kevyn Orr says yesterday they reached out and they bent over backwards, and they’ve never had one negotiating session with any of the unions,” said UAW President Bob King. “That’s outrageous. People in Michigan should be outraged they’re being lied to every day.”

Orr’s restructuring team has met with union and pension representatives a handful of times since last month to share information about his restructuring plan, including pension and health care cuts. But labor leaders have said the meetings could not be described as negotiating sessions because Orr and his consultants never specified potential cuts on which talks to reach a compromise could be based.

I want Kevyn Orr to succeed as much as anyone. But, if he hopes to get Detroit back on its feet and working together toward common goals, he might start by not insulting the people that made it the once-great city that it was. Calling them dumb, lazy, happy and rich is decidedly NOT the way to start.

UPDATE: Orr is now walking back the statement through his spokesperson, William Nowling who said Orr was “speaking about the attitude of the body politic of the city of Detroit, not Detroiters themselves” and tweeted that was referring to “failed political leadership”.

It’s a load of BS, of course. When people talk about people having a good paying job that they can retire from in 30 years with a pension with only an 8th grade education, that’s code for “union workers” and always has been.

  • kidcat24

    Was he talking about republicans with union jobs?

  • Uhave2laff

    How to win friends and influence people much?

  • rat618

    And what is his salary and perks? I think he fits his description of workers very well but would call him uber rich.

  • You live in Detroit or the Detroit area? You know the history or the details? If you you were either, you’d know Orr is right.

    • Sherry Kraft

      Back in the 30’3 40’s 50’s and even 60’s you did not need an education to get a job. BACK THEN THEY PAID LESS THAN $3.00 AN HOUR AT THE BIG THREE BUT OFFERED JOB SECURITY. Those days have been long gone and everyone knows you must have an education to get any job with a pension, a decent wage and any kind of benefits. The Detroit area has the MOST EDUCATED workforce today. Pesions are being destroyed, wages are being slashed, benefits taken away and he stands tall and says those people are rich lazy and happy? The only person I see in this disscussion that could be considered rich and lazy is you Mr. ORR….

    • kloo39

      Thats a bullshit statement,its like saying all blacks are lazy and stupid,you believe that?And yes i live north of Detroit

  • judyms9

    The only people who will get any kind of real negotiations meeting with Orr will be the big creditors and contractors. He and Snyder have known exactly what Orr’s going to do before his appointment was announced. Walking into a room where some union leaders happen to be and having a mtg.withunion block on his calendar doesn’t mean any negotiations took place. Anyone expecting more than this was born this morning.

  • atchelka

    Really, I think Orr is more accurately describing contemporary CEOs and our do-nothing rightwing Congress (yes, they’re on another 5 week vacation after doing nothing but attacking Obamacare for the 40th time and spending how much taxpayers’ dollars to do it?)!

  • Anna123

    I would call Orr, “dumb, lazy, happy and rich”! Not the UAW workers who built America! How unfair!

  • suzan

    As a Detroit resident and former city worker (7 years AFSCME/7 years non-union supervisor) I focused in on the:

    “but you don’t have to worry about what’s going to come”

    part, and I think that Orr nailed it. It’s not the decent job and benefits that were stupid, it was the failure to pay attention to the bigger picture.

    Frankly, the bond market is equally “lazy and stupid” and I am relieved to see that he is coming down as hard on them as he is on city employees:

    “Capital-market creditors are crying foul at Mr. Orr’s plan to treat general obligation, or GO, bonds as unsecured despite being backed by the city’s “full faith and credit”—which creditors should have realized doesn’t count for much.”

    I wasn’t dumb or lazy at my job but as a citizen/resident, I was. The city was falling down around me, the schools were terrible, the politicians were as likely to be corrupt as not and the ratio of taxpayers to city employees was shrinking daily, but I was getting paid, and I had decent benefits, so I was happy.

    In private industry, unions and management were both blind to reality and in the political realm and the public sector people were equally myopic.

    In theory I’m entitled to the portion of my pension which was vested–$800.00 a month. If I ever get it, it will certainly take the chill off of Social Security. These day, though, I realize that I do need to pay attention to what is going on–and if the bondholders are going to take I hit, I probably will, too.

    Frankly, it will be worth it if the city can get a fresh start–and the few remaining taxpayers can get streetlights, decent schools, reliable public transportation and police and fire protection.

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  • GotArt

    I don’t think Orr was polite in what he said, but I think there’s no escaping that some Detroit people have been living high on the hog without thinking about “tomorrow” and “tomorrow” has come. The city has been going bankrupt for years but no one wants to admit it. Too many people getting rich off contractor wheeling and dealing, dirty politicians and nepotism. Buildings crumbling. People moving out to the suburbs and taking their money with them. It stinks that there isn’t money to pay pensions for people who worked hard their whole life. But if the well is dry, it’s dry. Like the people who held stock in Enron. Gone, just like that. Because that pension money was only 50% paid for. Who elected the politicians? Unions are fantastic to a point. But everyone must take a hit now. Orr is just laying out the cold, ugly facts.

    • The well is decidedly NOT dry. That pension fund is actually in pretty good shape. That’s what makes it such a plum asset, ripe for the picking.

    • norquistisatraitor

      you’re an idiot buddy!

  • tobyspeeks

    This guy isn’t only a greedy scumbag living off of the government’s teat, he’s also incredibly dumb for insulting the Unions. If he had half a brain he’d realize there are millions of us all across this once great nation and his job doesn’t provide for a lifetime of security like some of the other elected political teat suckers.

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  • cinorjer

    You really expect this hatchet man from our rabid anti-union Republican lord and masters in Michigan to be anything but dismissive of the unions in Detroit? What next, is a dog going to bark?

    • Well, he IS a Democrat. So, yeah, I was actually hoping for better.

  • kloo39

    His job was voted on by the the state of Mi.,i voted against it,the bigger question is why our governor went against the will of the people,i though elected officials work for the majority,anything else is a dictatorship.