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Posted on Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 6:02 a.m.

AFSCME threatens legal action over proposal to outsource city of Ann Arbor compost operations

By Ryan J. Stanton

Several members of the AFSCME Local 369 labor union showed up at Thursday night's Ann Arbor City Council meeting, protesting what they consider to be violations of their contract and threatening to take legal action against the city.

"Your AFSCME workers are the major hub of what makes this city work," said AFSCME President Nicholas Nightwine, addressing the council. "Unfortunately, the morale of these employees is low and is sinking lower day by day. We are watching our jobs and positions disappear one by one to temporary workers and contractors."

AFSCME is the city's largest labor group. As full-time union employees have retired in recent times, Nightwine said, their positions have been filled with temporary workers.

"The contract between the union and the city states that jobs vacated due to attrition cannot be filled with a temporary worker," Nightwine said. "Our contract is being violated, and your city managers don't seem to care."

Nightwine said the city also has farmed out work that should be done by AFSCME employees. He said the Housing Commission recently awarded a contract to Beal Construction to perform work that has been done by city maintenance workers for years.

Nightwine said city maintenance workers now are being asked to deliver materials and equipment to the contractor doing their work, which he called "a slap in the face."

"Two years ago there, were six maintenance workers in housing and now there are only four," he said. "If the city were to fill these positions, there would be no need to contract this work out."

City Administrator Roger Fraser declined to comment on the allegations afterward.

"I'm not going to touch it," he said.

Nightwine said he fears the city is going to deliver another slap in the face to the union later this month by contracting out compost center operations to a New York-based company. He said the compost center always has been operated by city union employees, and it should continue that way. He said AFSCME is considering taking legal action over the matter.

"From what I understand, the contracting out of the compost center may bring in $500,000 in extra revenue a year," he said. "Is $500,000 really enough money to give up control of a compost center that has won awards for the quality of product it makes and has been managed very well by the employees that work there?"


AFSCME President Nicholas Nightwine told the Ann Arbor City Council Thursday night his union is looking into taking legal action to stop contract violations.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The City Council has a working session planned for Monday where city officials will lay out details of a proposed public-private partnership with New York-based WeCare Organics. The city received three bids in August in response to a request for proposals, and WeCare was selected as a finalist based on selection committee reviews and an interview.

Under a proposed five-year contract, WeCare would operate the city's compost site, including use and maintenance of the compost equipment storage building. The city would continue to operate a scalehouse, which handles compost, solid waste and recycled materials.

An analysis by city staff shows it would save the city more than $400,000 a year starting in 2011-12, with additional savings in future years. The 26-acre composting facility is located at the Wheeler Service Center at 4150 Platt Road.

The proposal will be on the City Council's agenda Nov. 15. If approved, city officials plan to move quickly to formalize a contract and reopen the compost site Jan. 3 under WeCare.

The city's compost operations brought in $247,000 in revenue in fiscal year 2009-10, while expenses totaled $930,000 — about a $683,000 overall loss. The year before, the city saw an overall loss of $568,000 from its compost operations.

City officials say the solid waste fund's challenges include loss of revenue generated by the solid waste millage, a drop in the value of recyclable materials, more expensive automated collection equipment and rising health care and pension costs.

In an interview Thursday night, Fraser was hesitant to talk about AFSCME's concerns about the compost center, but offered: "There is an RFP out, and the circumstances are such that there is some debate about what the meaning of the contract is. But the language generally says we may not contract out if it results in a layoff of city employees, and we've complied with that. They're continuing to express concern about that trend."

AFSCME union members are responsible for city streets, solid waste, parks, trees, the water system, wastewater system, permit and inspection services, street and signal lighting, board meeting minutes, housing services, customer service, purchasing, accounting, payroll, airport maintenance, planning, engineering, fleet services, community standards and CTN television.

"AFSCME has a reputation of working with this employer to solve problems, and recently the union is not even been invited to meetings to discuss these issues," Nightwine said, calling on the City Council take action to protect the union. "The union basically gets the attitude that 'This is what we are going to do, and if you don't like it, you can fight it.'"

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Tue, Nov 9, 2010 : 8:48 p.m.

"I'm not making enough to keep up with inflation!! Ok, so let's hear it, whose fault is this? " The Federal Reserve Board claims a mandate to regulate the value of our currency. Their success to date has been inconsistent. Most items, at least traditional (non-tech) items, when priced in terms of money not currency, cost about the same today as they did in 1968, 1868, and 68.


Tue, Nov 9, 2010 : 5:09 p.m.

Let's throw one more fun factor in there. The buying power of $1.00 in 1968 (the year I began serious full-time work) $1.00 in 1968 had the same buying power as $6.37 in 2010. Annual inflation over this period was 4.51%. I'm not making enough to keep up with inflation!! Ok, so let's hear it, whose fault is this? Surely it's the fault of everyone BUT those that would have seasoned employees take a 50% cut in pay, lose everything they have worked for and give their jobs (maybe) to someone not even legally here. Can someone please persuade all of manufacturing, service providers and retailers to immediately cut wages and prices by 50%...oh and please make sure the banks cut mortgages that are owed by 50%. I think that would work!!


Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 9:15 p.m.

"the group which promotes near-hate" Can't speak for the TP-ers, but near-hate? Not likely. Near-wage parity? Absolutely. With a competitive wage structure, we could hire many additional workers, and still send refunds to the taxpayers...

Jay Thomas

Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 7:45 p.m.

It's not abnormal for public employees to "retire" in their 50's, collect their "pension" (often an amount similar to their salary) and then go back to work in another job serving the public while continuing to receive both the pension and salary.


Mon, Nov 8, 2010 : 2:28 p.m.

Yes, it will be interesting to see if the Democratic majority on city council joins's lively Tea Party brigade — the group which promotes near-hate toward those who still make a living wage while paying union dues. Will our elected city reps support certain administrative efforts to toss AFCSME employees under the bus? Does the city subsidize commercial compost purchases at fire sale prices, and will its union workforce become the designated victims who arbitrarily pay the price for that?


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 11:54 p.m.

Great research, as usual (Don Bee, Alpha Alpha, braggslaw). I am a bit of a Randian, and it really bothers me to see union members demanding higher pay for a task that many unemployed persons would be willing to do for less! There is a large disconnect between work, value, and compensation in the mindsets of Americans. While the prosperity of Post-WWII America resulted in overcompensation (both for unskilled labor and the gamblers on Wall Street), the opening up of global competition as forced compensation to be more in line with the value of the actual work being done.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 6:47 p.m.

The similarities to colonial times are remarkable. Excessive taxation; marginal at best representation. Our total tax burden is greater than that which King George 3 ever claimed. Now, there appears to be a new group of royalty, the "public servant". With an inaccurate antiquated stereotype of being underpaid, public servants are fast becoming public masters. The nouveau riche.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 6:40 p.m.

I'm so glad that many folks here feel the same way I do about this union activity. I'm way late on this post but here's a few comments anyway. Goldsmith, I'm a Dem and I think unions are out of control, too powerful, and violate many of the "corporate" sins that they were formed to prevent. If the AFSCME were a corporation it would violate antitrust laws and be broken up as having too much power. Michigan has defict of over 54 BILLION dollars in "public" union contract commitments and they only constitute about 15% of the workforce. How much is that per union member? Too much is the answer. This union spent over 85 million dollars campaigning for union friendly candidates that lost. I will continue to vote for non union friendly candidates and moreimportanly, judges!!!!!! Carole, if the unions have their way you'll be paying "triple" the taxes to support the bloat. Taxpayers paid three times what Chrysler and GM were worth and the UAW still isn't happy and are suing to get back what they gave up as are the teachers unions, and Nightwine is threatning to do. Really appreciative those unions who only care about their members and not the "public" which they serve. Ignaz, look at the numbers, the minimum retirement compensation is 2.5 percent per year of the highest salary which can be inflated with last minute promotions,accumilated sick and vacation days, and probably other ways known only to insiders. I'd say that's a pretty good pension, and it includes health care for life at little cost. Bill, I think we could replace all public workers immediately with a 25% of the closest 'civilian" counterparts and not skip a beat in "productivity" while the replacements learn on the job while doing the job. Hey "born" Alpha ate your lunch but that's OK since he probably paid for it too! Townie, I got compost anytime I wanted it and you can "compare" and conjole the numbers all you want but someone still has to write a check for "real" money not "Townie Credit". Onlytruth, you've got different numbers because of the skewed accounting system the government uses (like considering an 8% return on pension funds) You've got to quit accepting "halftruths". Good to know that in an era of "deflation" you got a raise. I imagine you're taking advantage of all the Ann Arbor restarant specials so I bet you're eating out more while some folks are eating less.

Macabre Sunset

Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 6:32 p.m.

They get to retire with benefits, paid for by the rest of us, that we cannot even hope to achieve for ourselves. As a result, we can no longer afford basic services. It's as simple as that. These sweetheart deals, negotiated by politicians who wanted votes and didn't care about the public trust, are slowly bankrupting cities across our nation.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 5:32 p.m.

I get tired about people saying how highly skilled they are and that they should get paid more. The only true measure is what somebody is willing to pay you. I can find 1000 people off the street willing to do that job for 10 bucks an hour.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 4:40 p.m.

@sandman - If you check the Asplund website, They too cross train their forestry folks, they can: -cut trees -trim bushes -mow lawns -identify infections and infestations -treat infections and infestations -create trimming plans -edit photographs to show the results of trimming in advance -run bucket trucks and other heavy machinery -maintain equipment -build and maintain fences -etc. It is not unusual to have a wide range of skills when doing park and landscape maintenance. The Asplund folks pay about $18-25 an hour for people with these skills and offer a 401K and a health care plan that the workers contribute to. In short, I think with a little looking we can find comparisons for the AFSCME employees. I know for a fact that Aquarion has plant operators, that are also chemists for water quality chemistry and maintenance folks. I don't think it would be all that hard to find comparisons if we really wanted to.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 3:16 p.m.

"Every AFSCME union member has been broadly trained in an attempt to get the best bang for the buck, when working for the City of Ann Arbor. For this highly skilled, diversely trained staff, the city rightfully pays their hourly employee base at a well-earned premium. In summary, there are no true compensation comparisons to the AFSCME union members, employed by the City of Ann Arbor." There is a stretch. It's fine that city employees learned to multi task. Who among us has not had to work another's job from time to time? In truth though, any such agreement to pretend there can be no comparisons between city jobs and non city jobs is completely specious. Tasks are tasks, regardless of who signs the paycheck. All good managers want their subordinates to be able to work multiple jobs. This may have been a novel concept for the city to learn, but it has been standard operating procedure for businesses for nearly ever. So, it's a good try, but your argument does not pass the credibility test. Do you have any other reasons as to why our city workers should earn nearly twice what their subjects, er, taxpayers earn?


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 12:50 p.m.

@AlphaAlpha The City of Ann Arbor has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and the recent years passed, creating a situation that disparages your comparison argument. All AFSCME union members collaborated with the city to create a multi-skilled, diversely trained employee base and this, according to the city managers, created a situation where you cannot compare the city employee wages with non-city employee wages. The street maintenance crew (MDOT certified) also picks up the garbage and also repairs water and sewer mains and is certified with AWWA to do so. The water plant operators are also plant maintenance technicians. The park maintenance personnel are also the foresters. The clerical workers are all trained with the equivalency of a bachelors degree in their specialty of office management skills. The rental property housing inspectors are cross-trained in ordinance enforcement and the plan review of construction projects. The construction inspectors are also the rental property housing inspectors as well as project plan reviewers. Every AFSCME union member has been broadly trained in an attempt to get the best bang for the buck, when working for the City of Ann Arbor. For this highly skilled, diversely trained staff, the city rightfully pays their hourly employee base at a well-earned premium. In summary, there are no true compensation comparisons to the AFSCME union members, employed by the City of Ann Arbor.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 11:06 a.m.

"...your comparison of private to public sector workers ignores any potential difference in the types of jobs involved..." This is a tired, old, invalidated argument, frequently made by public employees, in an attempt to divert attention from, and shield themselves from, the realities of the competitive workplace. The argument is specious; one need only compare local public wages to national average public wages to see a huge disparity between the two. The disparity between the local cost of living (substantially due to higher taxes) is not nearly as great as the wage disparity. So, public sector employees here are overpaid relative to their own counterparts nationally, as well as much more overpaid compared to their private sector equivalents nationally. Additionally, nearly every public sector job does have an equivalent private sector counterpart: obviously positions such as garbage collectors, tree trimmers, grounds keepers, clerks and administrators, but also police and fire and utilities, all exist in the private sector. So there is very little difference in job descriptions between private and public sector tasks. Only the wages paid are disparate. The other tired, old argument offered by public employees is that their 'training, experience, and education' is superior. Sorry. There are literally millions of trained, experienced, and educated individuals in the workforce. Think of what we could do, as a city, with an extra $16,000,000 each year, if our workers were paid at the national rate for government workers. Better, think of what we the city could do with the extra $36,000,000 per year, available if our city workers earned what most workers earn.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 10:35 a.m.

AFSCME (American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees), one of the largest unions in the country; I believe a little over a million members. The majority of the members consider themselves skilled, I'll allow you to be the judge of skilled or not...clerical, financial, engineering, skilled trades inspectors, skilled trade workers, utility workers, foresters, street maintenance, solid waste operations, planners, public television, court operations, child-care, nursing, so much more. The vast variety of skills is the actual problem. When contracts are negotiated, it is for the entire group within the city. In reality, not all skills increase in value at the same rate, but AFSCME does not work that way. Everyone gets the same raise or lack there of, regardless of the job. If everything was like this, then a trip to the grocery store or th Best Buy would be outrageous. Certain products increase in value while others go up and still a few skyrocket. Maybe AFSCME should take a look at the individual skill marketability when considering raises or decreases in pay. A local cost analisys is always helpful. Unions are necessary to streamline the benefit sharing package process and to mandate fair treatment to all, but who is willing to admit the challenges may not give equal outcomes. It is not always fair to treat everyone equal, but AFSCME will not allow fairness to rule with negotiating benefit and wage packages.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 10:16 a.m.

Why would an entity in New York or anywhere else for that matter, bid on compost operations in Michigan with these statistics: "The city's compost operations brought in $247,000 in revenue in fiscal year 2009-10, while expenses totaled $930,000 about a $683,000 overall loss. The year before, the city saw an overall loss of $568,000 from its compost operations." Could it be that the city managers have no real intelligence and cannot run an actual business...or are they actually misappropriating public funds in an attempt convince council that compost is a losing business? Wake up Ann Arbor, composting is a money making operation and all you need to do is hire a manager that knows how to turn a profit using local marketing. Do you see all of the landscaping trucks hovering around Ann Arbor; we have a little utopia here and everyone knows it. Residents of the Ann Arbor area earn more money than the average person in our surrounding areas. When times are good, you cant find an applicant for a city job because the free market of self-employment pays so much better, but now that times are not so good, everyone looks at the fat cats still living the same as always with the same hourly wage working for the local government. Stop bashing public employee wages and start putting pressure on the managers to do a better job of turning a profit using actual assets, before shipping our money to New York, again (parking ticket $$ processing). I seriously doubt that a $683,000.00 loss can be made up by paying your employees less money. City managers are showing the hand that city administrators are trying to keep hidden. Hire employee contract managers, not people managers. We are heading toward a city workforce of salaried managers and nobody getting anything done. If only we had city leaders that had as much pride in their work as the AFSCME union members do, then this trend to eliminate hourly city employees would be looked upon as criminal. Ann Arbor residents listen to me: The Great and all powerful Wizard of Oz (city managers) is trying to tell you how your city is losing money. All you need to do is look behind the curtain and realize the truth. AFSCME union members are just a group of hard working, proud middle class Americans; they love their jobs and enjoy interacting with the public. AFSCME wages and benefits are not to blame for cost over-runs, bad management is to blame; poor supervision is to blame; horrendous unaccountability of executive purchases are to blame (TRAKIT). If it's so much cheaper to ship union jobs to the southern states, why arent the costs of automobiles dropping? It's because the top executive salaries and bonuses are able to increase when you lower the hourly wages and benefits. The union labor movement began in the south. Coal miners and railroad workers were being treated like worms. Feed them crap, pile them together and keep them busy. Unions humanized the American workforce and gave us a place in the American middle class. Please, let us remain where we were 5-years ago, are now, and will be 5-years from now. We are the: middle-class, union dues paying, working through crap, sorting through piles of paperwork, attempting to make our boss look good, proud to serve the public, quiet majority.


Sun, Nov 7, 2010 : 7:40 a.m.

Epengar, Since when is shoveling rotten vegetation "skilled labor"?


Sat, Nov 6, 2010 : 11:59 p.m.

AlphaAlpha, your comparison of private to public sector workers ignores any potential difference in the types of jobs involved. I think a much higher proportion of private sector workers are working in "unskilled" jobs that require little special training or education. The proportion of all city jobs that are similarly "unskilled" is probably much lower. Until you factor in the types of jobs, your comparison of "average private sector" to City of Ann Arbor employees is apples to oranges.


Sat, Nov 6, 2010 : 9:40 p.m.

Hello DonBee - Your posts are some of the best on this site; if everyone provided documentation and sources as frequently as you do, there would be many fewer people 'thinking' and 'feeling', and a lot more 'knowing'. Anyway, the post above includes the source (~17th paragraph)for the $104K, though, as stated, 104K was rounded up. Plagiarizing your work would be horrible. That's never going happen! Not knowingly, anyway. It is an odd coincidence that the two numbers are so close. If you find anything awry, please say so...forever...credibility is so important. Thank you. Best of luck...


Sat, Nov 6, 2010 : 9:24 p.m.

Hello Lovinit - Excellent research. That site is the benchmark data source. To summarize, $27.64 / hr total compensation for the huge majority of workers, the private sector. $27.64 times 2040 = $56,386 per year (one week vacation; no sick days off). It's helpful you included the $39.74 value as well; it equates to $82,659 per year for public sector workers. Now, 82,659 into 56,386 equals 1.466, meaning public employees earn 47% more on average than the rest of the nation. But: Here is a quote from the 2-28-2010 article entitled "Controlling employee costs may be Ann Arbor's biggest challenge" (Search & read the excellent, sourced article): "The average Ann Arbor city employee earns a base salary of $65,198 and receives $32,993 in benefits. By those calculations, the average active employee costs the city $98,191 per year, a figure slated to rise to $103,769 next year. And that's not including overtime, which is an expense of more than $2.76 million on its own." So, the $104K value used way far above was rounded up from $103,769 (note that gravy, er, overtime pay does cause total compensation to be significantly higher). $103,769 into $56,386 = 1.84, meaning our average city worker earns 84% more than the average non public employee. Put another way, privates earn 54% of publics. So, city worker compensation could be reduced approximately a 50% to match private sector pay, i.e. to get competitive wages paid. Even if we simply reduced our local city worker pay just to the average public sector pay you provided ($82,659), our workers would still earn 47% more than the unwashed masses. With 760 city workers, that move would save us 760 x (10376982659 = 21,110) = over $16 Million per year.


Sat, Nov 6, 2010 : 7:31 p.m.

Epengar, No I understand the function of the compost site. A function that could be better filled by a private contractor or better yet in somebody's backyard without involving taxpayer money.


Sat, Nov 6, 2010 : 1:52 p.m.

braggslaw, you don't seem to understand the function of the composting operation. It's a way for city and its residents to dispose of compostable waste. If we didn't have the composting operation, we would have to send the stuff to landfills, and that costs money. The production of marketable compost is a beneficial side-effect, it's not the point of the operation. Even if the compost operation loses money every year, it still might be the cheapest solution for disposing of grass clippings, dead leaves, tree branches, etc. It would be nice if every property owner in the city composted on their own, but unless or until they do, a city composting operation might well be the best solution.


Sat, Nov 6, 2010 : 11 a.m.

@Alphaalpha - Sorry to rain on your parade, but the $104K number you quote is from the Ann Arbor Public Schools, not the City of Ann Arbor. As the person responsible for the number, I want to make sure it is used in Context. I went hunting for the Ann Arbor AFSCME contract with no luck. The same local (369) also supports Milan. If the contracts are similar, than without overtime and benefits, the average union member makes around $40,000 for a 52 week year. Benefits in Milan are generous as are days off both for Holidays and for vacation. I would need to see an Ann Arbor contract to give you realistic numbers, but $104,000 per employee in AFSCME is not a correct number. I agree retirement age and benefits needs to be reformed.


Sat, Nov 6, 2010 : 6:19 a.m.

Thanks onlytruth. I still think they should out-source the union jobs or close the business because I believe the city has created a money-losing public works project that gives no value to the taxpayers.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 11:56 p.m.

Ok, I was going to leave this alone, but at this point I feel that it is time for me to support my Union and my President. First off what people don't seem to understand is that one of the major problems here is the fact the public was not told the truth when it comes to the pay of the AFSCME workers. I work for the City and I am a proud member of AFSCME. I have worked here for quite a few years and I am at the top range of the pay scale. My salary is just over 60,000 a year. If you want the exact number it's 62,581.22 per year. About a year ago the City sent all of it's Employees a total compensation report. This report is what your total cost is to the City. Mine was around 80,000. That's 24,000 short of what the public is being told. Like I said, I am also at the top of the pay scale. Believe me AFSCME workers are not paid nearly as much as the public thinks we are. If anyone really wants to know the truth, do this, file a FOIA request. Ask for a list of ALL City employees that have made over 100 thousand for the past few years. I will just about guarentee you that there will be no members of AFSCME on this list. Go ahead do it and see the truth. The City does waste a lot of money. Look at what our leadership spends on consultants. Should the MANY mangers and supervisors that DO make over 100 thousand be able to come up with plans, ideas, know how to operate things? The Council just approved about 18 thousand to get a plan for the senior center. Does not make sense. City management should be able to do this. There is a lot more behind the Compost Center than people actually know also. The way that City changed the prices and nearly gave away the best compost I have ever used is a HUGE part of the problem. The City is capable of doing much better with this site still under their control and operation. They need to advertise and make an attempt to sell the product. It does not take a genius to know this. Look, I am not the type of person to call people Union haters of accuse them of being anti-union. I think it all boils down to people not being given the correct information. The AFSCME workers do cover most of the work and services that does and offers. We are a proud group that has love for our jobs and this City. We take pride in what we do and how we do it. How can you call us greedy without knowing the truth. Yes we did get a 3% raise across the board this July 1st. What you weren't told is that when AFSCME negotiated our last contract we cooperated with the Employer more than other labor units. We did not get a raise for three years before this year. Again, can be backed up thru a FOIA request. Get a copy of our Collective Bargaining Agreement. At the next Council meeting on the 15th the public will learn more truths about the compost center. I for one am looking forward to hearing what more my Union is going to revel to Council. So please I ask you to wait until all the FACTS are out before you pass judgment. Thank you and if you really want to know the truth, just ask.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 9:49 p.m.

AlphaAlpha...OK, so here's what I find, effective June 2010 for our area: Private industry employers spent an average of $27.64 per hour worked for employee compensation in June 2010,the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Wages and salaries averaged $19.53 per hour worked and accounted for 70.6 percent of these costs, while benefits averaged $8.11 and accounted for the remaining 29.4 percent. Total compensation costs for state and local government workers averaged $39.74 per hour worked in June 2010. Total compensation costs for civilian workers, which include private industry and state and local government workers, averaged $29.52 per hour worked in June 2010. I a link is allowed here it's at Full-time is anyone that works 35 hours or more. We don't know how many years these employees have worked but I would guess that many are 18 years plus. Wonder what that statistic is in the private sector? I don't see a 50% more statistic here.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 7:54 p.m.

Lovinit - That is why we should stick with BLS average total compensation numbers. It's about ~$57K median total compensation for so called private sector jobs, approximately 1/2 the $104K total compensation for the local public sector.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 7:33 p.m.

Ignatz - Just in case it's not clear, $104K is total compensation, a phrase with specific meaning in finance: total compensation includes all forms of income, wages, benefits, etc., everything (except overtime, actually, which tends to sweeten the pot further, but that's another story). And, yes, the city agreed to these terms, back when the economy was ever-prosperous. Hopefully the terms will be revised locally, as they are unsustainable, and not by an outsider like a bankruptcy judge.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 7:26 p.m.

Ignatz - "We're talking about AFSCME workers here, not engineers. You think they pull down $100?" Think? No. Know? Yes. Where have you been? $104K / year city worker total compensation has been discussed here many times. Only a few city employees, some of whom commented above, pretend to dispute the $104K number. It's in their self interest to promote such misinformation, for obvious reasons. At some point, after repeatedly being reminded of the facts as nearly all understand them, they go quiet. So, again, with all due respect, please research a bit, then espouse.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 6:11 p.m.

Speechless I'm not sure if my earlier post was lumped into the bunch you referred to as 'union bashers'. I made an effort to be fair, and pointed out that unions have played a vital role over the years in the labor market. I also have an interest in wages because I have children who will be intering the working world in a few years. And, no, I'm not part of the wealthy who will never need to see a paycheck again, nor am I anywhere near retirement. I have my own business, and have employed a good number of people over the years. Did you have a chance to read the article? If not, I'll summarize: Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Kia, Volkswagen, BMW all have built plants in the South. Not one of them is unionized. All are doing very well. They have not paralled the downturn seen by the big three. Many of these companies are planning or are in the process or building more plants. I wish we had the same thing going on here, but that ain't happening. You have to ask yourself if the unions haven't outlived their usefullness. Is there a life cycle to the unions? This local spat with AFSCME is a good case in point. They are not arguing that they provide a superior service at a competitive price. No, they argue that their contract appears to be infringed upon. The City counters that costs keep rising. The union does not seem to care. Eventually you reach an impasse, and then things get ugly. Eventually unions have to face the reality that they are placing an undue burden on business in general. I also would like to remind you of the dissolution of the union a couple of years ago at Fingerle Lumber. The owners made it very clear, much as you suggest that the city and AFSCME should do, to their employees that either the union goes, or Fingerle closes its doors. The membership voted to leave the union. Was this coercion on the part of Fingerle? Emphatically no. They were prepared to shut their doors after Christmas that Fall. Three generations of ownership out the window. Instead, the employees kept their jobs (at the same pay level), and the company survives.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 5:23 p.m.

A rational, considerate way to approach financial loss on composting would directly involve both the union and the public in open discussion on this city operation and its finances. Lay out for consideration at least several different possible future scenarios, which would include the options of privatization and keeping things as they are now. Be transparent about current operating costs and business transactions, and compare choices made in other cities. What does the local Ecology Center think about the privatization proposal for city composting services? Their staff belong to a union local, I think. ------------ Holy schadenfreude!  It would bring such great pleasure to one day see all the angry union bashers compelled to live off a maximum of $7.50 per hour with no benefits and minimal personal savings. They, off course, delightedly prescribe this same ugly fate for a vast section of the working population. The bashers themselves have either reached retirement or else believe they have the means and connections to join that shrinking minority of privileged folks who can safely dodge low wage misery over their lifetime.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 4:26 p.m.

We should all remember the city is not some abstract entity that generates money from ether. The taxpayers fund the city so private citizens/taxpayers are being bilked by the compost busines..


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 4:15 p.m.

To AlphaAlpha....You stated "According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the average per-capita income in Ann Arbor is $30,410 - less than half that of a city worker." Per-Capita is everyone's total income divided by the city's population. i.e. the average income of people living in that city. The end result would be different than the median household income divided by the average inhabitants in a household. Go back to the blackboard now and figure it out.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 3:33 p.m.

It seems if people were really worried about saving jobs then they wouldn't be complaining about the Union trying to keep there jobs! I think it is interesting that the City has taken one department at a time to privatize services out which in some cases has actually took away from City revenue. Look at Parking Tickets. When you mail in your payment, someone in New York is actually processing your payment! Yes, the City pays over $400,000 a year for the parking tickets to be processed by a processing company in NEW YORK! Where are the Michigan jobs there?!?! And is Waste Management a Michigan based company, because they now handle dumpster service! The City clearly trying to take away jobs and outsource them and no services will be from anyone in A2, you will be calling another country, just to get services that your taxes pay for.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 3:02 p.m.

It appears this compost business is a public worx project for the union. What does it say when a group of people have to file a lawsuit to keep their jobs? It says you were not needed in the first place.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 1:19 p.m.

I love it. Another union "leader" who apparently does not understand the words in his contract. Contracting out work does not equal hiring temporary employees. If the contract does not bar contracting out work, then it is not a violation. And once again we have a union leader complaining about the city trying to save money without giving us some examples of where the money should come from to continue a money loosing program. Very common with unions, asserting some service should not be cut without offering up some ideas of other programs that should be cut in order to fund their positions. What good is a compost program that looses over half a rock yearly? If the program is loosing money, it should end altogether. This is not an essential service, and should not eat up tax dollars unless the city budget is healthy, i.e., the city can afford it. If you have leaves and grass clippings, chop them up with your lawn mower and leave them on your lawn. I have an issue with awarding a contract to an out of state company and would like to know if this agreement with an out of state company is going to give that company a profit along with a profit to A2. That would be fine. I do not want to see the contractor profit if A2 still takes a hit on a program that still looses money.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 12:56 p.m.

Go ahead and file, there are many who would gladly work at a lower wage. A union contract for unskilled labor? This is a luxury the taxpayers cannot afford.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 12:52 p.m.

Thanks, Ed. Going on perceptions can sometimes get you into trouble. Here is a link to an article dated October 22, 2010 that better states by point: Somewhere out there is a definitive list of all auto plants in the US and their affiliation, or non affiliation with the UAW. Back to the composting thing, I find it more than a little interesting that two of the reasons for the operating loss is rising health care and pension costs. The unions tend to act like steamrollers when it comes to those two things. One of the big questions of our time is did the unions overreach? Did they keep nibbling away at the hand that fed it to the point where there was no more hand? I have heard union folks say that they have fought hard to get the benefits they now enjoy, and are not about to give them up. Again, the question is: did they bargain for too much of the pie? I think a clue to the answer is in the article referenced above.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 12:24 p.m.

Readers need to keep in mind that the point of the compost operation is to give us a disposal method for yard waste, tree trimmings, fall leaves, etc. The alternative would be to send all that stuff to a landfill, or to burn it, both of which have significant costs and no potential for revenue generation, unlike compost production.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 12:18 p.m.

I'm surprised that "Americans" will even do such menial labor...oh wait...that's right, it's a Union job. Not even close to minimum wage. I know of a lot of people that struggle paycheck to paycheck that don't have a small portion of benefits and/or paid time off that union members get. So, in this economy, everyone has to tighten their belts up. If AFSCME has to bid the job then so be it. Not everything in life is a guarantee, especially jobs right now. But wait a minute...what in the world is a liberal doing outsourcing?!?...I thought that was only done by us capitalistic pigs.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 12:02 p.m.

When our country was young, and business fairly immature, unions played a key role in balancing the field. Business has matured to the point where unions have become obsolete. They did a job, but their services are no longer needed. Union membership across the land has been on the wane for many years. Why is that? Even with the government making it as easy as possible to form, or join a union, membership declines. How many auto plants outside of Michigan are unionized? I think only one. That was by choice of the workers, who wanted no part of unions. Unions have been trying for years to get these plants to unionize, but they aren't having it. That is a hard reality around here. Are those plants thriving? Yup. Are the workers happy? Yup. So what gives? A previous poster pointed out that when times were good, unions were given almost carte blanche. Times have changed, and changed a lot. Unions have to realize this, or face increasing animosity.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 11:09 a.m.

AlphaAlpha, We're talking about AFSCME workers here, not engineers. You think they pull down $100?


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 10:51 a.m.

If there is a better cheaper alternative to a unionized composting center, why wouldn't the taxpayers investigate this alternative? Talk about entitlement


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 10:46 a.m.

Leave the compost center alone. A private company is only going to raise rates, sales will drop and people in the area will be paying more. Save money by cutting supervisors and create a employee team down there ( those guys have been down there for years they know how to run the place).


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 10:20 a.m.

The "losses" in the compost operation are largely due to the wholesale discounting of compost to large landscape contractors who buy it by the gravel-train load for pennies on the dollar. The City sold so much of this tax-payer, rate-payer-subsidized compost at a loss (and well below market rate) this year that there was none left for residents to buy (even at double the cost they were charging the contractors). The City also accepts yard waste from other communities and loses money on that, too. Why? Residents were sold the compost operation on the principle that it would save the City millions in landfill tipping fees and provide residents with free or cheap compost and mulch. It was also sold as the environmentally responsible thing to do. Now we're being told that because it isn't making a profit for the City, it must be privatized. Why have we stopped comparing the cost to the landfill savings? Why have we stopped valuing the environmental benefit? Why are we supplying compost to contractors and compost services to other communities at a loss? Something stinks here and it isn't the compost.

mike from saline

Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 10:04 a.m.

Cash wrote, "If only we could contract out the "leadership" in Ann Arbor. My question is, don't they have elections in Ann Arbor?? I was under the impression they did. In fact they just had one on Tuesday [Federal, State and local]. Did ya miss that? It's all over the news.

L. C. Burgundy

Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 10:02 a.m.

Public sector unions are just plain wrong.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 9:39 a.m.

I just love this battle between the liberal City Council and the Union, both vote only for Democrats but each one tries to cut the out out of the deal. So, which is worse, greedy Union members or slippy City Council members?


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 9:27 a.m.

This is an essential move to help us rebuild our underclasses and stratified society. Unions have always been an impediment for moving forward! March on - let us reboot!


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 9:07 a.m.

"Educated people will investigate both sides of any situation before making opinionated comments. " Some do.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 9:05 a.m.

"Your analysis is about as credible as Mr. Fraser's." This from an expert analyst? "You fail to accept the fact that the 'average' figure you reference is salary only, while the city worker rate is ALL benefits, uniform allowance, vacation time, etc." If you can't challenge the facts, try to discredit the messenger. From "Controlling employee costs may be Ann Arbor's biggest challenge", here is the 'salary only', as you call it, value: "According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the average per-capita income in Ann Arbor is $30,410 - less than half that of a city worker." So, clearly, you are wrong. Again. Are your accusations meant to divert attention from the truth? Fail.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:52 a.m.

"Try walking in our shoes for a day and maybe you'll see both sides of the story." There are many private firefighters working for less than half your pay.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:51 a.m.

"Why are those calculations being kept secret? " The budget docs are public. Can't blame you for trying to protect what you have...high pay, great bennies.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:49 a.m.

"You fail to accept the fact that the 'average' figure you reference is salary only, while the city worker rate is ALL benefits, uniform allowance, vacation time, etc." You are wrong. Go to the source; BLS numbers reflect total compensation, not just salary. You knew this already.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:33 a.m.

That isn't the only object. Value for value is the object.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:33 a.m.

The union is only exercising power it obtained from past and present weak City leadership which had no backbone and no ability to negotiate fair yet competitive contracts. You can't really blame the union, they are just speaking from the foundation of their member's aggressive contract negotiations. They now have the power (or maybe even a noose around the city's neck). So you will be living in the bed you've made. No difference here between the City and GM for example. When times were good, you gave the unions what they wanted just to keep plants running and operations going smoothly. Now you pay the piper. Maybe the City should consider bankrupcy to break the contracts. There is no other relief for this unsustainable excess cost.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:25 a.m.

If the only object is to save money, why don't all department heads volunteer to work for one dollar a year the next three years?

Marshall Applewhite

Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:23 a.m.

"Is $500,000 really enough money to give up control of a compost center that has won awards for the quality of product it makes and has been managed very well by the employees that work there" This basically sums up how out of touch unions have become compared to the average taxpayer.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:20 a.m.

Ignatz - With all due respect, you may have missed the numerous articles here and elsewhere documenting the fact that the average city worker earns over $104,000 each year in total compensation, and does, in fact, have excellent pension benefits. $104K is nearly twice the US median of $57K. You deserve to look into these facts before making similar future comments.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:17 a.m.

"Is $500,000 really enough money to give up control of a compost center that has won awards for the quality of product it makes and has been managed very well by the employees that work there?" HELL YES!!!!


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:15 a.m.

The unions have become too big just like Gov't, they've turned into their own living and breathing beings with their own sets of needs that have nothing do with whats good for it's members.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:14 a.m.

If only we could contract out the "leadership" in Ann Arbor!


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:10 a.m.

At the least, the city workers should be allowed the right of first refusal of a new, lower cost contract. This will provide city workers a pro choice opportunity to be competitive with the rest of the workforce. Unfortunately, city workers are now overpriced in most regards, and unless their total compensation is lowered approximately 50%, which would approximately match the US median wage (per BLS), city workers will continue to lose job opportunities. Lower city worker total compensation will allow for more city employees to be hired, as well as lower taxes, as well as improved city services.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 8:05 a.m.

I doubt anyone in AFSCME is getting a "great pension". These people work at a jobs that people devalue and think that anyone should be happy to do at minimum wage. Shame on this society for wanting such an underclass.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 7:31 a.m.

Give up our "award winning" compost that costs the city $500K? Fine. Or else turn it into a driving range.

Tony Livingston

Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 7:21 a.m.

The problem with city employees is the retirement system. It is not just AFSME workers. People are retiring in their early 50s, getting great pensions and benefits and getting other full time jobs. It is a HUGE burden on the already stressed property owners who pay all of the taxes. The recent high profile employees that have left the city did not quit. They retired and went out and got other jobs while the city is paying someone else to actually do the job. The retirement age needs to be raised to 62.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 7:19 a.m.

The Union is basically saying that they were first in line for a long time, and don't like it that they have to queue like everyone else now. Boo Hoo.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 7:17 a.m.

Why is the city of Ann Arbor out sourcing any work to another state. I do believe that the name of the game for the elections, which was just on Tuesday, was to bring jobs and employment to Michigan. I agree with bidding on jobs if that would help with costs, but those bids should be from companies within the state and even better within the city of Ann Arbor. My tax dollars should not be going out of state to support outsiders. Actually, the city of Ann Arbor should be supporting those employees who have continually served and done a good job.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 6:35 a.m.

Unions face some tremendous pressure in an era where the public sector is increasingly stressed by falling revenue. Sweetheart deals! remember Berlin and his fleecing of Ann Arbor? The composting issue is nothing compared to the crisis of public service pensions. States like New York and Illinois are faced with whole state budgets that will be depleted by retiree obligations- leaving next to nothing for current operations. The composting debate is a sideshow in comparison.

Basic Bob

Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 6:20 a.m.

AFSCME: You can buy better, but you won't pay more.


Fri, Nov 5, 2010 : 5:39 a.m.

When the contract expires AFSCME should bid on the work like any other vendor to the city. Why does AFSCME have a monopoly and sweetheart contract? Know why you don't see many baseball games in the parks anymore? It is because the AFSCME workers maintain the fields and charge so much baseball teams have found other fields outside Ann Arbor. This is just one of many examples where the AFSCME monopoly hurts communities. It isn't union busting, it is about providing labor opportunities for all not just the protected.