Detroit Labor Relations Director Says Letters to Unions Misinterpreted

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The director of labor relations for Detroit, Lamont Satchel, hit back on Thursday against reports that letters that his office sent to the city's public safety unions on March 28 implied that Detroit was no longer obligated to honor its contracts with them now that an emergency financial manager has been appointed to handle operations. Satchel told the Detroit Free Press that there was "no way you can read my letters to mean that."

The city's newly-appointed emergency financial manager, Kevyn Orr, had responded to the letters' content on Wednesday. Spokesman Bill Nowling told Reuters that Orr "had no warning" regarding the letters, and that communication of that sort "has to be authorized by the emergency manager and this was not."

Here is some of the key information that has emerged over the last week regarding the letters sent to Detroit's public safety unions and the subsequent fallout.

* As noted in Wednesday's article, it was Reuters that had originally printed excerpts from the letters, in which Satchel stated that "the City is no longer obligated to participate in collective bargaining." The letters also reportedly said that the city would be immediately withdrawing from any current arbitration or mediated discussions and that any union issues that were currently in progress would be "dismissed."

* Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was reportedly sent copies of the letters as well, but when asked for a statement by Reuters, his office declined to comment on them.

* Union officials reportedly took the letters to mean that the city would not be honoring its current contracts with them or negotiating new ones, a charge that Nowling was quick to deny on Orr's behalf, saying that the city's current contracts "are still in place until they are vacated by order or new agreements are agreed to by the bargaining units and the emergency manager," as quoted by the Detroit Free Press.

* The quick response from Orr's office disavowing both the origin and interpretation of Satchel's letters came as a relief to some union officials. Daniel F. McNamara, who is the president of the Detroit Firefighters Association, said Thursday that the unions "were very hopeful" after seeing the response from Orr regarding the letters, according to the Detroit News.

* McNamara was quoted by the Detroit Free Press on Thursday as well, telling that paper that he and other union officials were "very happy that Mr. Orr weighed in, and that his position is what it is," adding that they are "looking forward to meeting with" Orr and "hopefully having peaceful negotiations."

Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in politics and public issues.

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