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Macomb's Memories

50 Years: A History of AFSCME Local 411

By Cynthia S. Donahue, Facilities and Operations

Fifty years ago, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) granted a charter to Macomb County, Michigan Employees Local 411. On Nov. 26, 1965, the Macomb County Sheriff Department voted their consent for AFSCME to represent them. Signed by Deputy John E. Donahue Jr. for the union and Undersheriff Louis A. Guiette for the employer, the vote was 55 for the union, three against and two challenged ballots.

The local’s first officers were President Wallace DeHate (Martha T. Berry); Richard Carion, vice president; James Locke, unit vice president; Treasurer Charles Sigro; Secretary Margaret Ingle; Earl Yenglin, sergeant of arms; and Trustees Fred Eschenburg, John Donahue, Clifford Rivard and Steward John Donahue.

The first contract for employees of Martha T. Berry Hospital (MTB) regarding employee demands for paycheck procedures was signed Aug. 3, 1966. Negotiating for the county was the Labor Policy Committee of the County Board of Supervisors Quinton G. Buss, Charles Beaubien, Edward Bonier, Alfred Blomberg and Sherwood Bennett, while the union was represented by Wally DeHate, John Donahue and chief negotiator Ralph Liberato.

The deputy’s first contract was a heated dispute. One of the first proposals was to establish a general overtime policy for both the Sheriff Department and MTB workers.  At the time, deputies and hospital workers received no overtime pay or compensatory time off although many were compelled to work more than 40 hours per week.  Deputies also requested overtime pay for court time, as well as establishing a system of even distribution of overtime. Pay raises were requested for so-called part-time workers who worked full 40-hour weeks. An additional concern was wage inequity. At one time, deputies were paid $2,400 per year, court officers $1,560 and jail matrons $1,380; janitors were paid $1,920, while the “janitress” was paid $960.

 

First AFSCME 411 Union Meeting - held at Blossom Heath. Standing: John E. Donahue, Macomb sheriff; Wally DeHate, MTB cook; Jerry Lucia, Fitzgerald School;, Ralph Liberato; Mrs.William Charron; unknown; William Charron, president of Council 23

In 1967, Center Line police officers joined Sheriff Department deputies in a new bargaining unit under AFSCME known as Macomb County Law Enforcement Officers Local 1277 which initially represented deputies, turnkeys, medical turnkeys, matrons, I.D. technicians, clerical, paraprofessionals and telephone operators.    The deputies eventually withdrew from AFSCME to form the Macomb County Deputies Association.

 

County Building, 11th Floor:  Seated, L to R: Quinton Buss, Charles Beaubien, Edward Bonior, Alfred Blomberg, and Sherwood Bennett sign AFSCME Local 411’s new contract while union representatives John E. Donahue and Wally DeHate look on.  Aug. 4, 1966

Although few original union records remain, interviews with past presidents Paul Vercruysse, John Eller, Bonnie Haines and 411’s first secretary Dorothy Gaberty helped create a list of former officers and leaders. Fay Panos was sworn in as Local 411 president in July 1965 representing the Radio Department, Register of Deeds, county maintenance workers, youth home attendants and, later, MTB employees. Panos served as president from 1965 to approximately 1982, with Helen Morris as vice president, and Gaberty as secretary.

 

L to R: Susan Sabaugh, Nancy Sefcik, Deborah Mack, Keith Bradshaw and Brenda Schrock being sworn in. 

Panos then ran against Eller and Vercruysse, creating a run off between Vercruysse and Panos that was won by Vercruysse. Vercruysse was president for a brief period of time until his position in microfilm was deemed to be supervisory, and he was asked to step down.

Delores Elliot served next as president; under her were Vice President Chris Powers, Treasurer Sue Sabaugh and Secretary Ruth Price. Bonnie (Allard) Haines was the next president, with Vice President Tom Regal, Treasurer Jackie Lucido and Betty Ghigo, and secretaries Joe Simon, Debara Blakner-Simon and Ted Blake. The next election, between Haines and Jacqueline Lucido, was won by Lucido. Shortly after the election, the newly elected treasurer resigned and Haines was appointed treasurer by the Executive Board.  Vice President Barbara Chisholm then traded places with Haines. Members of 411 were less than pleased with these results, and requested Haines step down, which she refused.   Although the Executive Board strongly supported Haines, the membership as a whole did not. These were the most heated and best attended union meetings in 411’s history.

The Macomb County Employees Association (MCEA) made an unsuccessful attempt to persuade 411 members to join their union in 1991. In 1994, another window period for filing a decertification petition arose, and a fierce fight was made to acquire 411 members by MCEA President Polly Helzer and Vice President Dane DeRush. Local 411 filed unfair labor charges against the county for bargaining with supervisors on behalf of non-supervisors and vice versa, and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) ultimately determined that MCEA was in violation of the Public Relations Act, thus ending the battle between the two unions.

Haines stepped down as president in April 1995, and John Eller was appointed by the Executive Board.  Serving under him were Vice President Katie Rogers, then Joyce Compo, Treasurer Nancy Sefcik and secretaries Nancy Backhurst, then Deborah Mack, and Janet Sancrant.

 

In 2001, led by the unions, approximately 2,000 county employees formed a Political Action Committee (PAC) called Macomb County Government Retirees Association to influence the pension issue with successful results.  That same year, Donna Cangemi won the presidency of 411 from Eller. Under Cangemi, Jan Wilson and Compo served as vice presidents. Current vice presidents are Randy Carpenter and Diane Coleman. Robin Hawthorne served as past treasurer. Past secretaries were Beverly Jolley, Elrae Bert and Jill Lezotte. The current treasurer is Karen Davenport and the current secretary is Cynthia Donahue.

Fifty years later, there are 24 bargaining units representing Macomb County employees, including the original AFSCME Local 411.