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Losses & labor bosses



Other media have hammered on Mike Ilitch for the miserable Detroit Tigers, but clearly, when this column took him on last week, it turned out to be the last straw.

After avoiding the press all year, the man who made cheap pizza an important part of America’s food pyramid caved in like an overdone calzone, and consented to an interview in which he promised to be a good, responsible owner and fix the team.

True, he did not call me, but talked instead to the smaller of the two merged daily newspapers which circulate mostly in the suburbs. He told the Detroit News that the Tigers, after giving us garbage for years, will now go out and sign free agents. Sounding, as usual, like a cross between Casey Stengel and someone on medication, he told the paper:

“I am going to operate like other teams because I feel I have a foundation. I understand our youth and it is not real complicated now. We are going to fill the holes and see how it works. Everybody can pass judgment on it.”

That they certainly will do. Yet if he makes an honest effort, and dedicates some pepperoni proceeds to the task, and employs competent people to rebuild the baseball franchise, perhaps Detroiters ought to give him another chance.

Last week’s column (“Thieves in high places,” Metro Times, Sept. 24-30) ought to have noted that this same owner took the Detroit Red Wings when they were even worse than the Tigers are now, and built them into what for years has been one of the world’s best teams.

He has also done other good things, the restored Fox Theatre being one of them. But he has never pretended to be the tooth fairy.

When the Fox was reopened, a writer I know congratulated and thanked Ilitch for restoring one of the city’s jewels. The owner’s refreshingly honest response was that he had fixed up the Fox to make money.

Whatever else the Tigers are doing, they aren’t doing that these days. Here’s hoping they start lining his pockets.

Several years ago, I was sort of a moderator at a meeting between Denise Ilitch and the executives of the Oakland Press who she thought were unfairly picking on her daddy and his baseball team. Everything was fairly rational until she accused the newspaper of having hurt attendance at Comerica Park with their negative coverage. (The editors seemed faintly amazed the Tigers thought the paper was that important.) I told her that whatever any of the papers wrote, if the Tigers were in the pennant race, she would have to hire extra security to keep fans from storming the place.

Perhaps some day we will see that again — but don’t hold your breath.


Labor pains revisited: Just before Labor Day, this column (“Labor and other pains,” Metro Times, Aug. 27-Sept. 2) looked at the lot of workers who make something less than $25 million a year, i.e. the rest of us, and noted that fewer and fewer of them are represented by unions.

Mark Gaffney, the principled and intelligent president of the state AFL-CIO, afterward took me to breakfast and noted that his union was not only aware of the problem, but was actually doing something about it. In August, his national president, John Sweeney, announced that the AFL-CIO was forming something new called “Working America,” which is meant to be a union for workers who are not in a union.

Working America intends to give “working Americans who do not belong to unions the platform and the tools to join together and have their voices heard.”

That sounds like a very good idea, especially if Working America were to be allowed to evolve into some new type of cross-industry union, or if it could at least somehow serve as a halfway house designed to attract new workers to the union movement. However, it is not at all clear any of that can or will occur.

For one thing, while the AFL-CIO wants Working America members to pay dues, it doesn’t seem they will get much for them. The AFL-CIO took pains to spell that out: “Working America will not be employment-based or workplace-based in any way; nor will it deal with employers for the purposes of collective bargaining, grievance handling, or any other type of job-related representation; nor will its members receive any benefits or privileges associated with employment-based representation.”

Which says to me that the existing unions don’t want nobody muscling in on their turf. What is still to be determined is how much of a push the giant labor federation is willing to make to get Working America launched.

I haven’t exactly noticed any Working America organizers at the airport or in the malls, nor have I ever met anybody who was a Working America member, or knew a Working America member, or (except for Gaffney) who knew what Working America was.

But let’s keep an open mind.


Ten Little Indians: OK, that nursery rhyme is no longer ethnically correct, but hey. Anyway, the 10 Democratic presidential candidates are coming to Detroit Oct. 26 for yet another in the series of “debates” that the press more accurately calls “cattle calls.”

Sigh. We’ll all get to see this televised live on Fox, but the real question is whether there will be anything worth seeing. Once, presidential candidates refused to debate each other, which was bad. But now we have the illusions of debates, which may be worse. Instead, these encounters have become sort of stylized gang rituals in which the eight candidates drawing the least attention try to distinguish themselves by beating up on the two who have caused the most excitement, Wesley Clark and Howard Dean.

What this says about who would be the best president isn’t clear.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail

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