Union protest blocks private tree-planting

AFSCME vetoes Non-union tree planters in Detroit

A plan to turn over an abandoned City of Detroit nursery to a nonprofit group that would use it to grow trees for neighborhoods and parks has been blocked by union objections. The Greening of Detroit, under an agreement approved by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the City Council, would manage the W.I. Meyers Nursery, a 125-acre plot in Rouge Park that has been closed for more than three years.

Using privately raised funds and volunteers, the group would restore the nursery and use it to provide mature trees to neighborhoods. Greening already plants 2,000 trees a year throughout the city.

But the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees obtained an injunction from Wayne County Circuit Court against the deal, saying it violates the collective bargaining agreement. The union says the bargaining agreement applies to any deals to turn over control of city operations to a third party -- meaning city workers must staff the nursery.

The two sides are to meet in court today before Judge Robert Ziolkowski.

"It just seems funny to try to take a stand for an asset that's just being wasted," said Rebecca Salminen Witt, president of the Greening of Detroit.

Terrence King, director of the city's General Services Department, called the union's position baffling. Not only would no city workers be displaced, but there should be more work for city forestry workers once the trees are grown, he said.

If AFSCME prevails, nonprofit groups could be discouraged from trying to help the city, King said.

But Melvin Brabson, president of AFSCME Local 542, which represents a variety of city employees, said the collective bargaining agreement is clear and the situation is no different from when the city handed over control of assets like the Detroit Zoo and Eastern Market to third parties.

In those cases, AFSCME agreed to modify the collective bargaining agreement to suit both sides' needs, Brabson said.

Although the nursery has been abandoned for years, Brabson said the Greening contract could set a precedent to eliminate city workers.

"If the city gets away with this, then no doubt they could close down any facility and give it to a third party," he said.


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