Bonus payments stir controversy in nearly-broke Detroit

Dec 13, 2012

News of some Detroit city employees receiving raises and bonuses is raising eyebrows, as the city struggles to stave off a possible state-appointed emergency manager.

Union officials, Detroit City Council members and others are asking why some city officials apparently received raises and longevity pay last week.

Longevity pay is a kind of bonus provided to employees based on seniority. Mayor Dave Bing eliminated the perk for union workers in 2010, and had promised to eliminate it for all city employees.

Delia Enright is with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers, Local 1023. She made Council members aware of the longevity payments this week.

“Longevity payments were issued to non-union, and some appointees throughout the city. Those payments were processed, they exist, those people got those checks, and they’re cashing them," Enright said.

Enright says news of the longevity payments was the “icing on the cake” after unions also learned that some city workers set to negotiate with them received raises.

“Some of the people on the [city] bargaining team, we’ve come to learn, have received raises in the last month,” Enright said. “Before they get ready to sit down at the table and discuss which person making almost minimum wage is going to be working one less day a week.”

Detroit is preparing to slash its workforce and implement furlough days for workers as city officials scramble to shore up the city's diminishing cash reserves--and convince Lansing not to appoint an emergency manager.

Enright says AFSCME has sent a letter to the city’s labor relations department, asking them to clarify why the payments were issued, and who received them.

The Detroit City Council is seeking similar information through its Internal Operations Committee, says Council member JoAnn Watson, who says the Council was completely blindsided by news of the payments.

“We want to know how many people received these payments, what was the aggregate amount, and who authorized it?” Watson said.

Bing’s administration confirms that longevity payments totaling $496,232 were made to 1,048 employees. Some were apparently union employees, though it’s not clear why they would get them after the 2010 decision. The mayor they would now be eliminated for all employees, after City Council gives its approval.

Bing said Thursday that he wasn’t certain about the circumstances behind the payments because “I don’t get into those kind of details on a day-to-day basis,” adding: “If a mistake was made, we will correct the mistake.”

Administration officials indicated they would provide more detailed information about all of the additional payments. As of Thursday evening, Michigan Radio had not received those details.