August 26 2012
Detroit Union Boss Proves You Can Lead Some Horses to Water, but You Cannot Make Them Think
Vicki E. Alger
Union rules have turned the bloated Detroit Water and Sewage Department into a government jobs program, according to Michigan Capitol Confidential. After reviewing more than 250 DWSD job descriptions, an independent consultant recommended trimming more than 80 percent of the department’s workforce—including a horseshoer position that pays a $29,245 salary and an additional $27,000 in benefits.
Never mind that the DWSD has no horses—and mountains of debt. President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 207 John Riehl dismisses neigh-sayers and insists the department needs more (unionized) workers.
The Detroit Free Press called such waste “intolerable” and editorialized:
The department, which has just under 2,000 employees, has 257 job classifications. The report suggests that can be reduced to 31, with three to five skill levels within each classification. Moreover, the current staff can be reduced to fewer than 400, the report found, with minimal investments in technology, outsourcing and streamlining. The inefficiencies in the workforce certainly contribute to the ineffectiveness of the system's management. Money spent on unneeded jobs is money that can't be spent on maintenance or upgrades to the system. Is it any wonder DWSD's aging pipes lose some 35 billion gallons a year to leaks?
The inefficiencies also help drive up rates. But customers should be careful about their expectations that restructuring could lower water bills. Because of the system's backlogged maintenance, and its considerable current debt (44% of revenues now pay debt service) the savings from any labor efficiencies might have to be plowed back into the system, at least in the short term.
This assessment doesn’t come from some anti-union crusader making hay. It comes from DFP editorial page editor Stephen Henderson, who says:
I'm a union supporter, from a family with deep labor roots in this city. And I still believe collective bargaining is the best (and maybe the only) way for workers to leverage their interests. ...But who can defend the kind of featherbedding that is described in the audit of DWSD? Ultimately, that's not even in the interests of the employees, many of whom are stuck in superfluous, overly specialized jobs and, as a result, are probably not employable elsewhere. And how can your blood not boil when the instant reaction from the union is not to say, fine, the jig is up. They're vowing instead to fight the suggested changes.
Too many union leaders today it seems—including public sector and teachers unions—have lost their way. Whether it’s protecting teachers who have no business being in the classroom or fighting for positions that don’t make sense in a 21st century workplace, union leaders are obstructing their way into irrelevance. Taxpayers, meanwhile, are increasingly fed up with subsidizing such waste.
As the old saying goes, if you want to minimize the flies, get rid of the manure.