John Riehl, president of AFSCME Local 207 from 2000-2012 has died. Detroit and the labor movement has lost a great and uncommon leader.
John worked at the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant for 34 years under difficult and dangerous conditions. During most of that time he served as an elected union steward for AFSCME Local 207 which represented Detroit Water & Sewerage Department workers. He headed the rank & file militant caucus City Workers for Justice (CWJ). He helped lead countless fights both inside and outside the union for the rights of workers, Detroiters and the oppressed in our society. He helped make Local 207 a symbol of labor's fight for civil rights.
He served as the elected President of AFSCME Local 207 from 2001 through 2012. During that time John steadfastly stood against the tide of concessions being demanded of Detroit's public workers, even if it meant being the only union president to do so. City workers always knew that John could be trusted to defend them when no one else would. John laughed when the press sometimes referred to him as a "union boss." His members knew him as their elected and accountable leader who administered their union democratically and with integrity. Based on this reputation he was later elected to represent all city employees on the Detroit General Pension Board.
Facing an imminent takeover of Detroit by the Emergency Manager, John led a strike of Local 207 in the fall of 2012, openly defying a federal court order and threats of arrest. When no one else would fight, John would.
John was a supporter of the civil rights organization Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). Below is a Face Book posting by a leader of BAMN.
"RIP John Riehl: socialist, champion of working class and oppressed people, former proud "union boss" and president of Detroit sewage workers, head of City Workers for Justice, loved and admired by so many people for your courage, strengths, and very human weaknesses. You taught us that the measure of a person isn't only what side they're on, but the actions they take on behalf of their side to win. Never to be mistaken for a liberal, you were a true militant who stood by and acted on your principles. You made a huge impression on everyone who ever met you and for those fortunate enough to call you friend. Your light went out too soon. I am honored to have called you comrade and one of my personal inspirations and heroes. You will be dearly missed."
Funeral arrangements will be announced.