The new powers granted to Emergency Managers in Michigan by Public Act 4 (the “Emergency Manager Law”) claimed another victim last month, one that went largely under the radar with the exception of a blurb in the News Herald. Effective in July, Emergency Manager Joyce A. Parker slashed the number of full-time firefighters from 14 to 6. The remaining 8 full-time firefighters were given the option to be reassigned as part-time employees and the city’s EMS services were outsourced to a private company that is said to have poor response time. Here are some highlights from the letter sent to the Ecorse Fire Fighters Union Local 684. Their contract expired on June 30th and the new arrangement was put in place in its stead.
Please consider this letter as notice of my decision on reorganization, This is intended to take place after expiration of the present Collective Bargaining Agreement on June 30, 2011.
As you know, your Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on June 30, 2011. Pursuant to Public Act 4 (P.A. 4), I have the ability to make changes and reorganize since its passage. I have not done so and hoped to reach a new agreement with your Union which would have allowed us to move forward in a way that is financially responsible for this community. Regrettably, that is not possible.
The difficulty in reaching an agreement with your Union did not begin with the passage of P.A. 4, but it has continued. There has been a disconnect between the financial reality that the City faces and the demands that for some time you have made regarding the cost and structure of the Fire Department moving forward. Since I have been appointed, I have consistently asked for concessions from you which amount to real savings. Unfortunately, that has not occurred. Since the passage of P.A. 4, your position has remained virtually unchanged.
Now that the Collective Bargaining Agreement has expired, and the rights of an Emergency Manager under P.A. 4 have been spelled out with clarity, it is necessary for the residents of this community to have in place a reorganization plan which the City can afford moving forward, to allow delivery of Fire Services.
As I pointed out to you previously, there are no more loans from the State. We have to live on the dollars that are being received by the City. Many of those dollars go for legacy costs, the balance are for the wages and benefits of your members as w’ell as that of the Police Department. There are simply not enough dollars around without the State providing assistance to deliver the services under the present cost structure and delivery model. It has to change and it will.
Accordingly, due to the City’s financial condition and consistent with my rights and responsibilities as Emergency Manager, effective July 8, 2011, the following changes will occur:
- The number of full-time Firefighters will be reduced from 14 to 6.
- Those members of the bargaining unit who have less seniority than the six Firefighters above, will be reassigned as part-time employees with the Fire Department
- A member of your bargaining unit must choose to accept or decline the reassignment. A memo will be sent to each bargaining unit member being affected by the change.
- All EMS services will be performed by a private company.
- Shifts will be filled with the permanent employees
Pursuant to Section 19 of P.A. 4, the Emergency Manager is authorized to take certain actions. The actions I am taking are consistent with the Act. By previous communications to you, consistent with paragraph I of Section 19, and consistent with previous case law under PERA, all minimum staffing provisions in the expiring contract were terminated.
Moreover, pursuant to paragraph J, I am authorized to reject, modify, or terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing contract. As you know, your contract expires June 30, 2011, but even if it had not, I would have the ability to act under that provision.
The City currently has a deficit totaling $14.6 million dollars and had a $4.5 – 5.00 million dollar annual structural deficit. We have lost almost two years attempting to negotiate reductions in Police and Fire budgets to close the structural deficit, but have not been able to obtain the cooperation needed.
At our June 28 meeting, we planned to discuss any other reductions or changes that could be considered by the Fire Union. Instead of suggestions, I received your interpretation of errors in the City budget and the assumption that these errors were adequate to close the shortfall the City is experiencing relative to operating expenses.
Under the statute: any provision in your contract which will allegedly prohibit this action will be considered rejected, modified. or terminated. These include the limitations in Article 43 and 44. I am also modifuing all provisions which require bank time to be advanced to members of the bargaining unit for time not worked.
Any other provisions which the Union would claim prohibits these actions will also no longer be honored. Consistent with the provisions above, and based on the financial emergency within the City, I will continue to meet with your Union to see if we can reach a resolution of an entire Collective Bargaining Agreement. I am not reducing the wages and benefits of the members that remain full-time employees, but I reserve the right to do so as the resolution is reached shortly. The present wage and benefit structure simply cannot continue.
This is an example of several things. First, there is no question that Ecorse is in poor financial shape. HOWEVER, this is NOT because the firefighters are breaking the financial back of the city. They are, however, being forced to bear the brunt of the situation, to pay the price on behalf of others. In other words, an essential public service, one which citizens are dependent upon their government to provide, is being slashed to solve problems not created by them or the public employees. I am told that this will result in there being only one firefighter on duty in Ecorse at certain times, forcing them to outsource fire protection River Rouge or other surrounding departments, putting an added burden on other municipalities.
This is also an example of how Rick Snyder’s new budget, which reduces revenue sharing — tax monies that are returned to local municipalities — is forcing draconian cuts to essential services and which inordinately affects unionized public workers.
There’s one part of Parker’s letter that deserves a second look:
There are simply not enough dollars around without the State providing assistance to deliver the services under the present cost structure and delivery model. It has to change and it will.
A large part of the reason that there are “not enough dollars around without State…assistance” is because revenue sharing was cut to municipalities to pay for an 86% tax cut for businesses. This is an essential point which should never be forgotten.
So, what are Ecorse citizens able to do to fight back against this? The short answer is: NOTHING. As with all Emergency Managers in Michigan, Joyce Parker answers only to Governor Snyder and his staff. The residents of Ecorse did not vote for her and, though they are paying her wages with their tax dollars, they have no way to respond or hold her accountable for what is happening in their city. They cannot recall her. They cannot vote her out of office during the next election. They are completely powerless in the face of an Emergency Manager whose goal is to balance the books, even at the expense of public safety.
The only hope we have of changing this is to repeal Public Act 4. You can learn more about this anti-democratic, disenfranchising law by clicking the links in the banner at the top of this blog. If you wish to get involved, go to Michigan Forward and volunteer to circulate petitions in your community. Once the required number of valid signatures is obtained, the law is put on hold until the citizens of Michigan vote on it at the next election.
There is no question that cities like Ecorse and Benton Harbor are facing monumental problems. However, these systemic problems did not arise overnight and they certainly did not arise because union members somehow caused them — they did NOT cause them. But they are first in line to pay the price. These problems were decades in the making and quick fixes by Emergency Managers will not result in sustainable solutions.
Republicans will tell you that the actions of Emergency Managers like Joyce Parker are the only answer. This is not true. It is, in fact, demonstrably false. Communities around the country are working their way through these difficult times without disenfranchising their citizens and kneecapping public employees and their right to collective bargaining. Only in Michigan is this “the only answer”.
Coming soon to a community near you.