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.