Detroit Schools’ Boss Announces Unilateral 10% Wage Cut–and Worse

by Rich Gibson

July 29, 2011

Roy Roberts, the “Emergency Financial Manager,” (EFM) of the Detroit Schools, today announced a 10% wage cut aimed at all district employees. He also described further benefit cuts but offered no clear details. The wage cut will come, on average, to about $7,400 per school worker.

Roberts was given dictatorial powers under a bill passed by the Michigan legislature this year. The EFM bill potentially applies to cities throughout the state, and all public workers. Roberts, who came to Detroit Public Schools as a former boss at the failed General Motors Corporation, now referred to by Detroiters as Government Motors, was appointed by the past Democratic Governor of Michigan, Granholm.

It is unclear exactly what the Detroit Federation of Teachers will do. The DFT, which gave up about $93 million in concessions in 2009, $10,000 per teacher and more, in what Substance then called the “worst teacher contract in school bargaining history,” has suffered with leadership habituated to retreats, union tops like President Keith Johnson determined to control the rank and file.

An AFSCME local, representing support employees, made the equivalent of about $10 million in concessions in 2010. Their members will likely wind up collecting welfare to supplement DPS’ gutted paychecks.

This month, an American Federation of Teachers committee upheld Johnson’s disputed re-election when he defeated radical candidate Steve Conn, leader of the 1999 Detroit Teachers’ Wildcat Strike, by 40 votes in what I described as a gross election fraud involving hundreds of dismissed ballots.

Following the counterfeit Johnson election, Conn was suspended from DFT membership until November of this year for “imposing himself,” during a typically raucous DFT meeting. The suspension continues, but under appeal.

EFM Robert’s announcement dovetails with declarations from Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (yes, basketball, a suburbanite millionaire who moved to town to run for office), that he will begin to strangle certain areas of the city with systematic denials of service. On July 25th, Bing described three types of areas in the city: (1) those worth preserving, (2), transitional neighborhoods, and, at base, (3) ruined sites.

Once a city of more than 2 million, Detroit, a dying example of the ravages of exploitation and racism fully merged, there are now about 700,000 people in the city. Vast stretches of land lie vacant, pocked by the hulks of burned out and vacant homes. Back in the day, Detroit had more single family homes than any other city in the nation. Now, two-thirds of the buildings in the city are unoccupied. Mayors for years, all Democrats, bragged they could bulldoze 10,000 of these buildings a year, but could never keep up.

As Detroit is bankrupt, as is the school system (with a $373 million shortfall), Bing claims he cannot offer services (police, fire, sewers, etc) to those trapped in areas where few people still live. With no money, Bing has no carrots to offer people he wants to move to less blighted areas. So–the stick: force homeowners who stuck it out to move, or else. In many cases, those in desolate areas are people with homes fully paid for. But those homes are worthless now. For them, it’s a closing vice: there is no money to move to newer, likely nicer and more expensive places, and it may become impossible to live where they are now.

Robert’s plan to cut wages is matched by an equally cruel plan to close schools in neighborhoods Bing has described as transition or wrecked–a one-two punch also designed to make already undesirable spaces even more difficult to live in.

Predictably, Detroit Public School tops describe the Bing and Robert’s maneuvers as “for the common good and for the children, in their best interest.” The common good for many DFT members could mean they lose their own homes.

DFT leaders insisted that, “ a contract is a contract,” claiming that EFM Robert’s decision to void their current agreement is illegal. However, it appears the Michigan EFM laws supercedes the DFT contract; something the courts will surely decide.

In the interim, with Conn suspended, there are few union members dedicated to the kind of direct action that could defeat Robert’s dictates. Indeed, many of those who walked the picket lines during the Wildcat Strike of 1999 have left the district or retired.

DFT President Johnson whose dedication to concessions would have to be completely upended, in his own head, may have nowhere to turn but to job actions—or he could choose to let the issues stagger through the Michigan courts, urging patience from members when, in fact, the reality that concessions do not save jobs but, like giving blood to sharks, only make bosses want more, churns home again and again.