Detroit Labor Chief Denies Report City Won’t Honor Union Contracts

Detroit — The office of labor relations for the city of Detroit is denying a published story that the city would no longer honor contracts it had with unions representing police, firefighters and paramedics.

A Reuters story reported that Lamont Satchel, director of labor relations, had sent letters to the unions on March 28 saying the city would not honor the contracts due to the recent appointment of emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

Copies of the letter were also sent to Mayor Dave Bing as well as Orr, who disavowed the letters, saying he had no prior knowledge they would be sent.

“In no place could it be interpreted to say that we can get out of an active contract,” Satchel said.

“My letter was sent to the unions to put them on notice that under Public Act 436 (the appointment of an emergency manager) that we don’t have to bargain because you don’t have a contract.

“For those in the process of negotiations, we would discontinue those negotiations under peril, but will still talk with them on matters of concern to the employee/employer relationship.”

Satchel said the city would honor active contracts.

“We have contracts that we are still living under,” Satchel said. “We have to, and will, abide by any contract that is place unless the emergency manager goes through the process of getting out of that contract.”

Orr spokesman Bill Nowling said Thursday the office of the emergency manager had no prior notice about the March 28 letters.

“We found out about it the same way the unions did; in a letter,” Nowling said. “We, along with the mayor’s office, were cc’d in the letter. That kind of a letter has to be issued by the emergency manager, if it’s to be issued at all.”

Nowling noted that the letters came from the city’s labor relations department and not from the office of Mayor Dave Bing.

“They were cc’d as well as us,” Nowling said. “The letter came from the director of labor negotiations. We were not aware of the letter being sent, didn’t approve of it being sent and it’s not a letter we would have sent.”

The letter caught Detroit Firefighters Association president Daniel F. McNamara by surprise.

“We were surprised, but we’re very hopeful after seeing how Mr. Orr responded to it,” McNamara said Thursday. “We haven’t yet had the ability to meet with Mr. Orr. We want to meet with the emergency manager and work towards contracts in a peaceful manner. We want him to hear the other side of the story.”

McNamara said the firefighter’s union had met with city officials on Wednesday.

“We brought up the letters, and they were very sure of themselves, and that’s how it was going to be,” McNamara said. “We found out later that Mr. Orr wasn’t aware of the letters. It’s going to be interesting to see Mr. Orr talk with the city’s labor relations people and our commissioner.”

From The Detroit News