Ypsilanti Township officials, union at odds over 32-hour week
Ypsilanti Township’s move to cut back hours for many township employees brought an emotional reaction from those union members Tuesday, who argued officials should have explored other cost-saving measures instead.
Effective Oct. 5, the township cut back the hours of 37 employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union from 40 to 32. Those employees are the township's clerical and maintenance staff.
Union members argued that while their contract called for possible hourly reductions, they had no inkling those reductions would be implemented at all, much less immediately. They have since sent the matter for arbitration and demanded the township rescind the agreement.
Under the contract, the union agreed to hourly reductions, along with a clause for PTO - paid time off. In exchange, the township agreed not to lay anyone off for 16 months.
Township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo said full-time employees could use their PTO to make up for lost hours. For example, she said, some full-time employees could accrue 4.25 to 5.75 hours of PTO per week, making the actual hourly reductions 2.75 to 3.25 hours, depending on their seniority.
Stumbo said the agreement was needed to cut costs. The township says the move could save roughly $50,000 in 2010.
Stumbo said the township still has a positive fund balance, but has been hit hard by the announced General Motors plant closing, nearly 2,000 home foreclosures in the last year, and the loss of some state-shared revenue.
The township also was hit by a recent 19 percent increase in its overall health care costs. That increase will cost the township around $2,600 per employee annually, said Township Treasurer Larry Doe.
Stumbo said the township aims to maintain full-time services for residents, although the township did cut back hours at its Civic Center in conjunction with the changes. The center is now open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Stumbo added she fully understands the union members’ position.
“They were upset about it. Anyone would be upset if your hours are reduced,” Stumbo said.
Cheryl Lynn-Bruestle, the local AFSCME chief steward, said at first the union didn’t agree to an hourly reduction in exchange for a 16-month layoff freeze. She said if members had agreed to it, they certainly weren’t expecting such an immediate hourly reduction, but were told it might happen if the economic situation got truly dire.
Lynn-Bruestle and other union members doubted the township’s claims that the situation was bad enough to call for the hourly cuts. She said said other expenditures weren’t looked at closely enough and called the reduction “a disingenuous act.”
“We feel that we bargained in good faith, and this is what we got,” Lynn-Bruestle said.
Resident Bill Winters, father of the township attorney Doug Winters, was critical of the union members’ stance. Winters, a former UAW official, said the union agreed to the contract with an hourly reduction clause and needed to look over the contract.
“You said you’ve been taken. I don’t believe that,” Winters said.
Township labor attorney John Hancock worked on negotiations with the union until the contract was ratified in August. He said the clause was in the contract for possible hourly reductions, but neither side discussed when or if it would be implemented.
The union made some concessions in its contract. This year, members will receive 1.5 percent to 3 percent pay raises, but their wages will be frozen indefinitely after 2010. Workers, whose annual salaries average $48,000, will lose between $2,612 to $4,320 per year under the hourly reductions, according to the township’s figures.
Next year, teamsters and non-union township employees are expected to face 3 percent wage cuts, with the possibility of layoffs in both groups.
In total, the township employs about 115 people.
AFSCME staff representative Winston Johnson said the union gave up too much in the contract.
“Are these (reductions) absolutely necessary at this time?” Johnson said.
Township Clerk Karen Roe made an emotional appeal to union members, saying they need to understand how dire the financial situation is for the township. She said if they didn’t make the necessary cuts, the township could be facing a $12 million deficit in three to four years.
Roe also said the township is pushing for an upcoming police millage, but if it doesn’t pass, the number of deputies on the street will be reduced. She said she and other board members didn’t take the decisions lightly.
“I don’t sleep at night worrying about this,” Roe said.
David Wak is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.