By Tom Travis
“This contract is a step forward and not a step backward,” Mayor Sheldon Neeley said today, announcing a new negotiated contract between Local 1600 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the City of Flint.
“This is the first negotiated contract since our city was deconstructed by the emergency managers forcing labor agreements that were not negotiated,” Neeley said.
“I stand here united with my friends at the Local 1600. I understand that for the working residents of the city of Flint that it’s important for us to stand together as a united front to the benefit for all Flint families,” he added.
Along with Mayor Neeley when he made the announcement was AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) President of Local 1600, Sam Muma. Local 1600 is the largest collective bargaining unit in the city of Flint, with 184 employees represented. Five unions have contracts with City of Flint employees including: Local 1799, Police Officers Union Local 352, Fire Department Union and Captains and Lieutenants Union.
The contract, which goes next for approval to the Flint City Council, includes seven to eight per cent increases “across the board, not just in wages,” Mama said.
He explained, “This is the first time in a decade that we’ve been able to sit down and negotiate a contract. In 2012 the emergency managers put the smack down on us and outsourced a lot of our work.”
Flint was under “emergency financial management” imposed by the State of Michigan from August, 2012, through April, 2015. The appointments of the managers by former Gov. Rick Snyder were much maligned locally and correlated with the city’s move to use the Flint River as a water source and the subsequent water crisis. The sequence of financial managers included Ed Kurtz, Michael Brown, Darnell Earley, and Jerry Ambrose.
Also present at the press conference were Lori Greyerbiehl, a staff representative from Local 1600/Council 25; Krystal Wallace, one of the contract negotiators; other Local 1600 members; City Administrator Clyde Edwards; and City of Flint Human Relations Director Eddie Smith.
City Council must approve the newly negotiated contract
Noting that the contract needs to be approved by City Council, Neeley said he anticipates the contract will be on the next city council agenda. When asked about details of the contract the Mayor responded, “More money.”
Muma said due to outsourcing, city employees lost about 35 per cent in their contracts including losses in health care and wages. “As we try to recreate and build back, we’re going to continue to work through some difficult problems,” Muma said.
“We understand that the spinal cord of our society is the middle class. I’m still a union member myself and I am a union minded man,” Neeley said.
Neeley added, the emergency managers came into cities like Flint and “deconstructed” and what we’ve been able to do is build capacity. Emergency manager came and went, he said, they disrupted the flow of things but the residents remained and provided services here in Flint.
Speaking to EVM after the press conference , Muma said it wasn’t until 2017 and 2018, once the RTAB (Receivership Transition Advisory Board) left Flint that the unions were able to negotiate a contract with city employees.
Muma said there are several vacancies in AFSCME-eligible positions the city is trying to fill which would take the total membership from the current membership of 184 to more than 200.
“Since 1999 Local 1600 has had a contract, that is truly a contract that was beneficial to the union employees,” Muma said. “Every contract that we’ve ever seen since then, the pay increases were offset by increases in health care, increased amounts of pension contributions.”
City of Flint Human Resources Director Eddie Smith said, “We wanted to approach this negotiating process in a different way … It’s been an ‘open door’ process of negotiations. We’re constantly talking.”
Muma explained the negotiation process was usually three city representatives with three union representatives sitting around a table but he added that negotiations also included Zoom meetings and email communications.
The contract will be made public when it is presented to the city council, according to Melissa Brown, City of Flint’s director of communications.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at email@example.com.