Detroit Local Targets New Projects, Defends Public Pensions


August 5, 2013

Glenn Goff, a member of Local 58, works at the Detroit Public Lighting Department.

One year before his city made headlines as the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, Detroit Local 58 Business Manager Mike Richard was meeting with his member of Congress to underscore the need to give Detroit and Michigan residents the first crack at construction jobs on several Detroit-area projects that were in the planning stage.

Richard says he is hoping that the city’s bankruptcy and the appointment of an emergency manager won’t derail the projects.

 Local 58’s biggest immediate concern, he says, is protecting the pensions of Local 58 members who worked as electricians in public schools and for a public utility company that was privatized before the city declared bankruptcy. But the need for decent-paying, long-term jobs needs to take center stage for Detroit, the legendary home of the U.S. auto industry, to see an economic recovery.

On Monday, July 29, Local 58 hosted a workforce summit with Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) to discuss how to expand employment opportunities for local residents on large-scale projects including construction of a new bridge to Canada, a light rail system that will take passengers seven miles from midtown to downtown, with future plans to go all the way to nearby Pontiac. There is also talk of a commuter line from the city to Ann Arbor.

“My message to the summit was that we don’t want to just provide one-time jobs for residents and then kick them to the curb when the projects end,” says Richard. By partnering with groups like the A. Philip Randolph Instituteto prepare residents for success in math and other skills required in apprenticeship programs, Richard told the gathering, Local 58 could make a commitment to help turn around the economic futures of both individuals and the suffering city.

The local already works with city and state officials in pre-apprenticeship readiness programs, Access for All and the Detroit Registered Apprenticeship Pilot Program. Both curriculums put applicants through a drug testing and basic skills assessment to prepare for the five-year trade’s training. Successful applicants are provided financial assistance, including help with books, tools and transportation.

Richard says that the preparatory programs will only succeed if the city and state commit to hire local residents on publicly-funded projects.

“Detroit can be reborn,” says Richard. The automobile companies are bouncing back, creating some construction opportunities. And Dan Gilbert, the CEO of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, along with affiliated entities, has not just made a major commitment to the city, buying 30 buildings and employing 8,000 people there, he is using AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades to refurbish his properties, including some of the city’s most-celebrated historic venues.

Naheed Huck, a participant in the summit, representing the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, outlined a state plan for “Best Value Contracting,”  She told CBS-TV Channel 62: “It’s a two-stage contracting process, where [contractors] are asked to see how they will address local needs. And then they go into the second stage where they actually bid on price.”