Rough water in talks

Detroit water department workers say the metropolitan area’s water supply may be in jeopardy if Mayor Dennis Archer does not offer them a fair contract. With a banner that read, "Mr. Mayor don’t gamble with Detroit’s water," about 20 members of the Sanitary Chemist and Technicians Association (SCATA) and the Senior Water Systems Chemists Association (SWSCA) held a rally at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center last week.

An Archer administration spokesman emphasized the city’s negotiation efforts and said the area’s water will not be put at risk.

Officials of the two unions, which represent about 170 workers, said they might walk off their jobs within the next two months if an agreement is not reached. Members of SCATA and SWSCA monitor the water supply for bacteria and other substances at the five treatment facilities that serve the metro area. They have been without a contract since June 30, 1998. SCATA voted July 22 to strike if they cannot settle with the city, and SWSCA agreed to support them.

"They have not made us a serious offer," SCATA President David Sole said of the city’s proposed pay raises.

"Our research shows that we are paid thousands of dollars less than every other employee in the city in comparable positions," he said.

Greg Bowens, Archer’s press secretary, said the city is working hard to negotiate a contract with the two unions and is optimistic that an agreement will be reached soon.

He also says that no matter what happens metro Detroit’s water supply is not at risk.

"The job they provide is important, and we are obviously not going to risk the health and welfare of millions of people," said Bowens. "People will have clean drinking water one way or another."

Late last month the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) reached an agreement with the city. AFSCME represents about 5,000 hourly workers including clerks, mechanics, maintenance workers and other nonsupervisory employees. According to Bill Harper, AFSCME’s chief negotiator, the three-year contract, which is retroactive to July 1, 1998, includes a 2 percent pay increase the first year and a 3 percent pay hike each of the last two years. Cash pay incentives up to 1 percent will be based on performance and will be in effect the contract’s third year. AFSCME had been without a contract since June 30, 1998.

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