The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Takeover of Detroit’s Water Department Means More Problems Ahead

Mar 6, 2017

The incompetence displayed by the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) in dealing with the recent Boil Water Advisory comes as no surprise to those who know the GLWA’s history. The GLWA took control of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) as part of the bankruptcy agreement imposed on the city of Detroit in 2014 by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and his hand-picked city emergency manager, Kevyn Orr.

The deal put together to bring about the takeover allows the GLWA to cut the DWSD’s workforce from 1400 to 500, and since the takeover has indeed already laid off 41 percent of the workforce. Those laid off include many with decades of experience and a great deal of knowledge of the city’s water system.

The layoffs did not occur without a militant fight by water department workers to save their jobs. In 2014, the DWSD threatened to subcontract out 80% of workers’ jobs. In response, a portion of the workforce in AFSCME Local 207, led by its late militant President, John Riehl, carried out a 5-day strike to fight the layoffs. Despite the workers being forced backed to work following the firing of 36 workers, workers temporarily prevented job cuts and the fired workers were all reinstated.

Since the takeover, however, workers were laid off and forced to re-apply for their jobs. Though many were brought back, most were forced to accept the re-classification of their jobs. Many then lost seniority protections after the slashing of jobs began.

The “malfunction” that resulted in the Boil Water Advisory is a harbinger of things to come due to the takeover of the DWSD. Besides the layoffs, the GLWA has forced the DWSD to reduce its budget, which will result in the closing of water treatment plants and fewer repairs to prevent flooding from water main breaks.