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No Horses, But Detroit Water Department Employs 'Horseshoer'

Union head says it's 'not possible' to eliminate positions from bloated city entity

Despite having no horses, the water and sewerage department for the city of Detroit employs a horseshoer.

Yet even with a department so bloated that it has a horseshoer and no horses, the local union president said it is "not possible" to eliminate positions.

Union rules have turned the department into a government jobs program, some critics say.

The horseshoer’s job description is "to shoe horses and to do general blacksmith work … and to perform related work as required." The description was last updated in 1967.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has a large debt, rising water prices and inefficient services — using almost twice the number of employees per gallon as other cities like Chicago.

A recent independent report about the DWSD recommends that the city trim more than 80 percent of the department’s workforce. The consultant who wrote the report found 257 job descriptions, including a horseshoer. Capitol Confidential sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the department for the salary, benefits and job description of the horseshoer position.

In response to the report, John Riehl, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 207, which represents many of the DWSD employees, told the Detroit Free Press that the department needs more workers.

"They don't have enough people as it is right now," Riehl said. "They are just dreaming to think they can operate that plant with less."

But critics say this is just another example of city departments operating as a jobs program for union employees.

"They have said for years that they don't have enough people," said Roi Chinn, a former city administrator and 2013 mayoral candidate for Detroit. "As the bureaucracy thickens and union power grows, there is always a built in reflex … to want more.

"Whenever you think you’ve heard the bad about the city of Detroit, it gets worse."

Chinn said if he was mayor he would sell the water department.

Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor for the Detroit Free Press, wrote last week about the "intolerable waste" in the water department.

"For unions and the whole idea of collective bargaining, this is the kind of report that just makes any sort of future very, very hard to negotiate," Henderson wrote. "It suggests that collective bargaining turns government into a provider of jobs instead of public services."

Daniel Edwards, a construction contracts manager with the DWSD, said the employee was transferred from the Detroit Police Department five years ago. The police department has horses, though the DWSD horseshoer no longer works with animals.

"DWSD has a blacksmith shop in our Central Services Facility," Edwards said. The shop "also ... repairs equipment and works with various metals and welding for the department when needed." The horseshoer now works at the Central Services Facility.

The city pays $29,245 in salary and about $27,000 in benefits for the horseshoer position.

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See also:

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Shows Problem With Government Unions

Detroit Tries To Salvage Water Department

The Public Employee Union Problem

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