Judge stops strike by Detroit water-sewer workers

DETROIT -- Workers rejected a judge's "ridiculous" order Monday to end a strike protesting job cuts at the Detroit regional water department, a union lawyer said.

Union attorney George Washington called federal Judge Sean Cox's injunction "outrageous" and said he would file a motion to dissolve it. Cox's order also bars anyone affiliated with the union from obstructing operations.

The union doesn't want Cox handling the case at all because he already has oversight of some Detroit Water and Sewerage Department functions under a long-running legal case not related to the strike, Washington said. Nobody will return to work until they have talked with their union leaders, he said.

"Judge Cox is the manager _ he's the guy who is setting terms and conditions of employment," Washington said. "It's like having your boss being the judge. That is unprecedented and ridiculous."

The 950-member union went on strike Sunday to protest plans to lay many of them off and privatize some of the work. The workers belong to Local 207 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.

Cox's order said the job duties performed by water department employees represented by unions affect the public and that a strike harms the public safety. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said in a statement that he "is pleased and appreciative of" Cox's ruling.

"It is imperative that there be no interruption in the service or an impact on the quality of water provided to our citizens or any negative impact on the environment," Bing said.

Earlier in the morning, about two dozen workers were picketing in front of the delivery entrance at the department's wastewater treatment plant in heavily industrial Southwest Detroit. The sign-waving workers circled the entrance and surrounded vehicles attempting to enter as a few police officers tried to keep peace between the strikers and drivers. While some truckers drove away, others entered, including one that ran over two empty lawn chairs on a patch of grass next to the driveway.

Roger Young, a sewage plant operator, said he's worked at the plant for less than two years. He said he came after being laid off from a Michigan manufacturing plant that closed and moved to Ohio.

"I just thought it'd be a lot safer _ everybody needs water," he said. "This is the last place I thought that would be contracted out."


Associated Press writer Ed White contributed to this report.