Mayoral labor pains

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Is the Kwame Kilpatrick administration retaliating against union leaders who urged their members to reject the City of Detroit’s recent contract offer?

The mayor’s office says no, but you’d have a hard time convincing members of AFSCME Local 312 that City Hall isn’t applying some punitive muscle to the malcontents.

About 45 workers picketed the Detroit Department of Transportation building on East Warren last week to protest the suspension of AFSCME Local 312 president Leamon Wilson and chief steward James Thomas.

According to attorney George Washington, who represents AFSCME, Wilson was originally told he would be suspended 29 days for allegedly lodging a false complaint with management on behalf of about 20 bus mechanics working the midnight shift. The complaint involved a supervisor who workers said made threatening comments and spoke of carrying a knife and a gun at work, says Washington.

“He did what a union officer is to do and they decided to kill the messenger,” says Washington.

Thomas also faced a 29-day suspension. He allegedly created a work stoppage when mechanics refused to continue working under the supervisor, says Washington, who denies that there was a work stoppage.

Workers rallied Friday while Washington met at the D-DOT building with the city’s labor relations department to discuss the suspensions. After arguing that the city cannot punish union representatives for doing their jobs, the city backed down and limited the suspension to three days pending an arbitration hearing, says Washington.

Washington, who has represented AFSCME for 30 years, says no union president has ever been suspended during his tenure. He suspects that the city is retaliating against Wilson, who, earlier this year, was instrumental in getting workers to reject the union contract proposed by the Kilpatrick administration.

“That claim is absolutely ridiculous,” says Jamaine Dickens, press secretary for Kilpatrick. “Any discipline was warranted.” Dickens told News Hits he would call back to elaborate further, but did not. A D-DOT spokesman said the department could not comment on a personnel issue.

The arbitration hearing has not been scheduled and Wilson and Thomas will continue working, says Washington.

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