Working closely with local groups and Occupy, United Auto Workers Local 600 has been an integral part of actions that have succeeded in blocking evictions.
"The time it takes us lawyers to win even the easiest of victories means most homeowners will not be helped. ... When people try to get modifications, the banks tell them documents are lost, and give contradictory information. People are told, ‘You can’t be helped unless you’re behind in your payments,’ and later they’re told, ‘You can’t be helped because you’re behind in your payments.’”
—Ted Phillips, Executive Director, United Community Housing Coalition of Detroit
Much of the once-grand city of Detroit has been reduced to a ghostly ruin, and the recent upturns in profitability of U.S. auto firms have hardly helped it, since the companies have few plants left in the city. The heralded rebirths of GM and Chrysler hasn't helped workers much, as the Obama administration declined to insist on shoring up auto production in the United States in return for massive federal loans.
Abysmal poverty afflicts the city; 40,000 households have suffered water shutoffs. The specter of thousands of new home foreclosure stalks the city, threatening to push more Detroiters out of their homes on top of the 67,000 bank foreclosures—more than 20 percent of all household mortgages—that hit the city between 2005 and 2009 alone. The city already has an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 vacant homes. With the ongoing wave of foreclosures, home values have been plunging. Foreclosed homes sell for $38,000 in Wayne County and less than $11,000 in Detroit, according to RealtyTrac.
With little realistic prospect of besieged homeowners getting help from overwhelmed lawyers serving the poor, or Obama administration programs (see here and here), United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 600 has been stepping in to help fight foreclosures. Working closely with groups like People before Banks, Occupy Detroit, Moratorium Now!, Jobs With Justice, and other groups, Local 600 has been an integral part of actions that have succeeded in blocking evictions. “All the good guys came together in an ad hoc coalition,” explained Vinny Pfursich, editor of Local 600’s newspaper.
Local 600 has 10,000 active members and about 15,000 retirees. It represents workers at 40 diverse workplaces, including nurses and lawyers as well as the traditional base of Ford auto workers at the River Rouge plant.
Labor educator Steve Babson, a leader of People Before Banks and author of Working Detroit, recounted a recent action that was “a scene straight out of Charles Dickens." An elderly African-American couple, with husband William legally blind, missed some mortgage payments to the New York Bank of Mellon Trust. In a sheriff’s sale, the bank bought the home for $12,000, meaning that the Garretts would have to move from their home of 22 years in the dead of winter.
At one point, Bertha Garrett thought that she had persuaded the bank sell the home to the Garretts for the $12,000 that the couple had managed to scrape together. But then the bank backed out of the deal, insisting on a sale price of $24,000, far out of reach for the couple.
Usually, what happens next step in the foreclosure process is the arrival of a truck hauling a dumpster, with a crew ready to throw out a family’s belongings.
But UAW 600 and its allies confronted the would-be eviction team with a tactic appropriate to the Motor City: cars and lots of them. The anti-foreclosure forces surrounded the Garretts’ home with dozens of cars, and the bank’s evictors were shut out. When the eviction squad called in the police, officers came to the scene but dismissed it as a “civil matter” and drove off. That left the anti-foreclosure forces still in command of the situation, and the evictors left the scene.
Meanwhile, some 40 protesters—about half from Local 600—picketed outside the Mellon bank to publicize its treatment of the Garretts. With the eviction foiled and the prospect of bad publicity growing, the Mellon bank relented and sold the Garretts’ home back to them for $12,000.
Local 600’s role in the fight against foreclosures is in keeping with its history of militancy, outlined in Thomas Sugrue’s book The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. “We’ve got a history of social activism," Local 600’s Pfursich says. Based primarily at the River Rouge complex, Local 600 caught on very early to the first signs of corporate flight from unionized plants in the U.S. North.
In 1951, Local 600 filed an historic lawsuit challenging Ford’s layoffs resulting from its relocation of jobs. But Local 600’s position found more support among local city councils and the public than it did with UAW President Walter Reuther, according to Sugrue: ”The reluctance of the UAW (and most other unions) to challenge sacrosanct business practices [like plant-location decisions] limited the possibilities of resistance to de-industrialization.”
Local 600 was also out in front of the rest of labor in backing the rights of African-Americans to live anywhere they wanted, and fought against the rigid system of housing segregation that kept blacks confined to a cramped, tiny slice of Detroit at a time when the city’s population was growing rapidly.
Today, the housing issues are quite different, as the city is contracting painfully, losing 25 percent of its population 2000 to 2010 and growing more impoverished. But Local 600 appears deeply committed to the fight against foreclosures, with another action set for today (Wednesday) to prevent a family from being evicted in the nearby town of Inkster.
Local 600’s activism in fighting foreclosures has the potential for energizing other locals of the UAW and other unions. If Local 600 can have a substantial impact in a metro area of 4.3 million, then unions concentrated in medium-sized factory towns of 40,000 to 100,000 have the potential to exercise at least as much power.
The efforts of nonprofit and faith organizations have mostly focused on trying to help potential foreclosure victims use federal programs and negotiate loan modifications with the banks. But nationally, there is a growing awareness of the futility of the main anti-foreclosure programs and the general unwillingness of banks to negotiate lower mortgage payments. With many Americans fed up with bailed-out banks forcing families out of their homes, unions like Local 600 could be a part of the Occupy movement's spring offensive focused on preventing foreclosures.
Link to article from AlterNet
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) will retire at the end of his current term, capping a historic career as the longest-serving member of Congress in history.
In prepared remarks for his annual "State of the District" speech distributed by his office Monday afternoon, Dingell described his decision as personal and rooted in the standards he had set for himself as a lawmaker.
"Around this time every two years, my wife Deborah and I confer on the question of whether I will seek reelection. My standards are high for this job. I put...
Sean Sullivan | Washington Post 24 Feb 2014 Hits:121 Michigan
On December 3, United States Bankruptcy Judge Stephen A. Rhodes—to the surprise of no one—formally ruled that Detroit is “eligible” for bankruptcy. In other words, creditors will now wrangle over Detroit’s government assets with Rhodes as the referee.
It is important to understand that at no point has Detroit declared or requested bankruptcy. Indeed Detroiters and others in Michigan have resisted as best they could, only to be overpowered at every turn. As Judge Rhodes explains below, bankruptcy has been orchestrated from Lansing (the state capitol) with a lot of help...
Frank Joyce | AlterNet 17 Dec 2013 Hits:329 Michigan
Michigan lawmakers passed a controversial measure on Wednesday that will ban all insurance plans in the state from covering abortion unless the woman's life is in danger. The law, which takes effect in March, will force women and employers to purchase a separate abortion rider if they would like the procedure covered, even in cases of rape and incest.
Supporters of the "Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act" argue that it allows people who are opposed to abortion to avoid paying into a plan that covers it. Opponents have nicknamed it the "rape...
Laura Bassett | Huffington Post 11 Dec 2013 Hits:1472 Michigan
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes ruled Tuesday that the city of Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy after a long court battle between city appointed 'emergency manager' Kevyn Orr and union and labor activists who say the decision paves the way for workers' pensions to be cut.
Rhodes ruled that Detroit is insolvent, a legal criteria for bankruptcy, meaning it can cut public pensions for the bankruptcy filing.
Critics say the city bankruptcy filing, the first of its kind, is an attack on pensions and future livelihoods for workers in the city of...
Common Dreams Staff 03 Dec 2013 Hits:278 Michigan
Contradicting what the corporate media editorial boards have promoted in chorus with the multi-millionaire Governor Rick Snyder and his appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, 110 people filed objections to the forced bankruptcy of the City of Detroit. The hearing took place on September 19 and was widely covered in the local, national and international press.
This extraordinary hearing had provided only a small window of time for legal action. Many of the people that testified were retirees, city workers, community organizers and professionals who met the deadline set by the Judge...
Abayomi Azikiwe | Global Research 24 Sep 2013 Hits:601 Michigan
Much has been justifiably made about the damage the Roberts Supreme Court has done to voting rights in their recent decision, Shelby County v. Holder. However, a potentially more insidious plot denying the precious right to vote is occurring in my own state of Michigan, where Republican Governor Rick Snyder has appointed an emergency manager to run Detroit in place of the duly elected mayor and City Council. Even more troubling, the governor did so after Michigan voters had rejected the emergency manager law at the ballot box, when late...
Rep. John Conyers, Jr | Huffington Post 16 Sep 2013 Hits:569 Michigan
Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history Thursday afternoon, capping a long decline that left the nation’s automaking capital bleeding residents and revenue, while rendering city services a mess.
The nation’s fourth-largest city in the 1950s with nearly 2 million residents, the city has seen its populaton plummet to 700,000 as residents fled increasing crime and deteriorating sevices, taking their tax dollars with them.
The five-decade slide has left the city owing creditors some $19 billion and under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. The manager has been...
Michael A. Fletcher | The Washington Post 18 Jul 2013 Hits:275 Michigan
In November, Michiganders voted the state's undemocratic Emergency Financial Manager law out of existence. But that didn't keep Snyder and legislators from claiming control of Motor City.
As of today, Detroit is under the control of a governor-appointed emergency financial manager. The Motor City is the largest district in the nation to have its voters and elected officials sidelined by this new experiment in "crisis management."
Michigan residents might be wondering how this EFM got appointed. Didn’t they roundly reject financial managers in a statewide referendum in November? Michigan residents voted to...
Harriet Rowan | PR Watch 28 Mar 2013 Hits:585 Michigan
On Thursday an emergency manager was named for Detroit, Kevyn Orr, a partner in the Jones Day law firm.
MICHAEL STAMPFLER, [email] Available for a limited number of interviews with major media, Stampfler is former emergency manager of Pontiac, Michigan. He said: “I do not believe emergency managers can be successful — they abrogate the civic structure of the community for a period of years then return it virtually dismantled for the community to attempt to somehow make a go of it. The program provides no...
Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) 15 Mar 2013 Hits:801 Michigan
Teachers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, say that new paycheck cuts are leaving them with so little pay they qualify for food stamps. The teachers, working without a contract, have been hit by a 2011 state law that limited the amount public employers can pay for workers'health insurance. That's now being applied retroactively to these teachers, cutting as much as $300 from each paycheck.
"I am a five-year teacher who brings home $555.39 for two weeks and who currently qualifies for a Bridge Card," Ratliff told the school board Monday to loud...
Laura Clawson | Daily Kos 06 Mar 2013 Hits:729 Michigan
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared the city of Detroit in a state of "fiscal emergency" on Friday afternoon and announced he would appoint a emergency financial manager (EFM) for the city.
Neil Munshi reported in the Financial Times that the emergency manager "would have relatively broad powers to handle the city’s dire financial situation."
In a blog post on the decision, Snyder writes: "Working together in partnership, we can more quickly and efficiently reform the finances in the city." But the EFM role is not one of ...
Andrea Germanos, staff writer | Common Dreams 02 Mar 2013 Hits:620 Michigan
On the heels of a lawsuit filed recently in the Ingham County District Court challenging the constitutionality of Michigan’s new Right to Work law, a coalition of unions has filed a similar lawsuit in federal court. The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit and assigned to Judge Stephen Murphy, claims that the law violates the rights of private sector union members who are covered under federal law rather than the laws of the state of Michigan:
The Michigan AFL-CIO, the Building and Trades Council, the Teamsters, SEIU, United Farm...
Eclecta Blog 16 Feb 2013 Hits:1148 Michigan
Michigan’s so-called lame duck legislature passed a remarkable 232 bills in its last week of business. Only one bill, SB 0116 (2011), the so-called Right to Work Bill, passed on Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday were busy days with 100 and 117 bills respectively passing and Friday was a short day with 14 bills passing before the 2011-2012 legislature adjourned for the last time.
I was standing outside the east wall of the Capitol Building below the House chamber windows chanting “Kill the bill!” when the one unthinkable happened; bill SB 0116...
Ernie Whiteside | Vine Street Report 30 Dec 2012 Hits:556 Michigan
LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Legislature approved sweeping legislation on Tuesday that vastly reduces the power of organized labor in a state that has been a symbol of union dominance and served as an incubator for union activity over decades of modern American labor history.
The two bills, approved by the House of Representatives over the shouts of thousands of angry union protesters who gathered on the lawn outside the Capitol building, will among other things, bar both public and private sector workers from being...
Monica Davey | The New York Times 11 Dec 2012 Hits:628 Michigan
Newly elected Rep. Dave Curson moved into his spacious, sun-drenched Capitol Hill office three weeks ago, eager to savor every minute of his congressional career.
And relish it he must: In four more weeks, it’ll all be over.
The Michigan Democrat just won his first congressional race, but in a twist of redistricting he’s already a lame duck. He was elected to a mere seven-week stint, ending on Jan. 2, to finish out Republican former Rep. Thad McCotter’s term.
(PHOTOS: Thad McCotter's career)
So Curson is spending his final...
Seung Min Kim | Politico 07 Dec 2012 Hits:963 Michigan
Lansing, MI – Many concerned worker gathered in Lansing today as Republican legislators scrambled to move forward two bills that had been dormant in their committees for most of the…
WASHINGTON — Driving from Michigan in his Ford F150 pickup truck, David Curson arrived in Washington a week ago. He set up an office last Sunday, was sworn…
Four congressional aides to Michigan Republican U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter have been indicted for falsifying nominating petitions for McCotter's 2012 re-election bid, Michigan’s Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette…
The ballot initiative to repeal Michigan's onerous, anti-democratic Emergency Manager law will go on the November ballot, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Friday. The repeal campaign had collected enough…
In its first major action on righting the city's finances, Detroit's financial advisory board approved Mayor Dave Bing's plans Thursday for $100 million in cuts to the city's…
Women’s health care should never be a political game. And yet, any time there is a contentious election around the corner, that is exactly what it becomes. Never has…
Planned Parenthood's mascot, "Pillamina," is expected to be present Wednesday during a protest outside Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's fundraiser at the Troy Marriott hotel. Credit Planned Parenthood of Michigan
What good is knowledge, if no one has access to it? That was the underlying question in Troy, Michigan where Tea Party activists sought to thwart a …
There has been much talk recently about the war on women, and for good reason — the onslaught of anti-choice legislation authored, sponsored, and voted into law…
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