‘We will never stop fighting for Detroit and its workers’ – says AFSCME leader

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AMERICAN Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees union (AFSCME) leaders have pledged to ‘continue the fight for Detroit and its workers.’

In Detroit last Wednesday, a federal bankruptcy court judge let stand an earlier state court ruling that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder violated the state constitution by filing for bankruptcy and threatening the pensions of 20,000 workers in the city.

But the judge did allow the bankruptcy to move forward in federal bankruptcy court for now.

‘The fight does not end here,’ AFSCME Council 25 President Al Garrett said.

‘We will never stop fighting for Detroit and its workers. Snyder and Orr are not above the law. Their scheme to use bankruptcy to seize employees’ and retirees’ life savings has to be stopped.’

‘This bankruptcy not only tramples on the Michigan legal process but sets the stage for a destructive and damaging proceeding that will only serve to drive Detroit into further peril,’ AFSCME President Lee Saunders said.

‘The fight is not over and we will continue to stand up for Detroit’s workers every step of the way.’

The previous week, Snyder authorised his appointed Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr to file for bankruptcy, an act that a state judge almost immediately deemed in violation of the state constitution’s pension protections.

But now the action will proceed in federal bankruptcy court, and the next action on the case is expected this Friday, August 2.

AFSCME said last Wednesday: ‘Eager to push the bankruptcy through, outsource the city’s public infrastructure, and target retirees’ hard-earned pensions, Snyder and Orr are misleading the public about the actual cause of the economic crisis in Detroit.

‘Non-uniformed workers of Detroit – 70 per cent of whom are represented by AFSCME (along with another roughly 40 per cent of retirees who are AFSCME members) – had their pension benefits reduced by approximately 40 per cent since 2012.

‘The average pension is $19,000 per year. Workers have taken a ten per cent pay cut during the past fiscal year. And the pension contribution to the General Retirement System is only four per cent of the total revenue Detroit receives.

‘Orr publicly claimed he “bent over backwards” to work with constituencies in Detroit. Not true. Despite many requests, Orr has refused to meet with AFSCME leadership.

‘As recently as three weeks ago, Orr refused AFSCME’s request to meet to discuss pensions and health benefits for retirees. Just two weeks ago, his representatives assured AFSCME that there were “months” to address these issues.

‘It is estimated that the bankruptcy will cost Detroit more than $100 million in professional fees, including massive fees paid to Orr’s former law firm.

‘Detroit saw its share of state revenues slashed by $66 million from 2011 to 2012 by his hand. In total, state aid to Detroit has been cut by $160 million from 2002.’

• More than 45 actions were held across America last Wednesday demanding that lawmakers and big low-wage employers raise wages.

On July 24th, a national coalition of community advocates, workers, online activists, faith and business leaders joined forces for a National Day of Action to Raise Up America, calling on elected officials and low-wage employers to raise wages for millions of America’s lowest-paid workers.

After President Obama delivered a speech on the economy last Wednesday, Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), issued the following statement: ‘The President today laid out a bold framework for how to grow our economy and address the critical economic issue of our time – income inequality.

‘Among the critical proposals he put forward is raising the federal minimum wage.

‘Today marks the 4th anniversary of the last time the federal minimum wage was increased and President Obama clearly restated his commitment to raising it.

‘By raising the minimum wage, we can reduce income inequality in our country and provide dignity to people who work 40 hours a week and still cannot provide for their families.

‘Nobody with a full-time job should live in poverty.

‘As they struggle to put food on the table and pay their rent, minimum wage workers aren’t standing for it any more.

‘Across the country, we have seen courageous workers go on strike to call attention to the fact that their wages cannot support their families.

‘We stand behind these workers in their effort to raise their wages.

‘We cannot rely on employers to pay a living wage, the federal government must intervene and that is what these workers are fighting for.

‘Congress should follow the President’s lead and take steps to increase the federal minimum wage as soon as possible so that millions of working families can emerge from poverty and make ends meet.’

In cities including DC, Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh, working people such as nursing assistant Carol Ford of Cleveland made their voices heard about big employers like Wal-Mart who pay wages too low to get by on.

‘You’re getting big profits, but are paying out little to your employees. I am quite sure that the CEOs’ families’ aren’t starving.

‘Imagine what it would be like if someone made them live the life of one of these employees for just one week. It would be like a landlord being made to live in a slum home,’ said Ford.

Coalition partners for these actions included NELP Action Fund, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Jobs with Justice, the National Women’s Law Center, Leadership Center for the Common Good, National Council of La Raza, Center for Economic and Policy Research, USAction, Interfaith Worker Justice, Credo Action, Campaign for America’s Future, Demos, Jewish Council on Public Affairs, Coalition on Human Needs, Wider Opportunities for Women, Raise Maryland, Coalition of Labor Union Women, MomsRising, and Fair Share.

In a call to action Raise Up Massachusetts said: ‘Minimum wage just isn’t enough to make ends meet for working families in Massachusetts.

‘Workers can’t afford the basic necessities, and it’s an everyday struggle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

‘To make matters worse, hundreds of thousands of hard-working people in this state are at risk of losing their jobs and the wages that support their families simply because they have to stay home to care for themselves or a sick child.

‘That’s why we’re taking action to raise up Massachusetts.

‘On Wednesday, July 24, workers and activists across the state are coming together to fight to raise the minimum wage and require employers to offer earned sick time.

‘There will be actions happening across the state. Check out the list below to find the event closest to you!’