Water Department Privatization, Massive Layoffs Debated

DETROIT (WWJ) There was an overflowing crowd — and heated comments — at the Detroit City Council meeting Tuesday as members heard about massive cuts possible within the city’s Water and Sewerage Department.

Under consideration is a five-year plan for the department to contract with private firm EMA for oversight of the department, which would save a reported $139 million and reduce the workforce from 2,000 to 400 workers. No decision was made, with Detroit City Council declining to vote after the heated hearing.

That means it lives to be debated another day — and at least one worker said saving money shouldn’t be the highest priority.

“The water quality is very critical and it’s every moment of the day that goes by water’s entering people’s houses — if that’s affected by personnel changes that will be seen in people’s houses and their health,” said Andy Ross, a senior analyst for the department.

Workers recently went on strike to protest the planned cuts and were ordered back to work.

Catherine Phillips of AFSME Council 25 said voters would reject the privatization and layoffs.

“They don’t want the state or any outside person coming in and running what we have,” Phillips said. “Why are we here, why are we even here discussing this, when the people are saying no?”

The head of the Water Department said the cuts are painful but necessary. An outside firm recently studied the department and concluded 80 percent of its jobs are redundant — while the cost of providing water to the suburbs near Detroit rises by double-digit figures nearly every year.

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