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Mayoral Veto Threat May Not Be Enough to Avoid Destruction of Collective Bargaining in Fort Wayne

via IN | Fort WayneThe fate of collective bargaining for 1,300 union employees in the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana, lies in the hands of the city council after two of its members introduced legislation that would make drastic changes to the current system. Mayor Tom Henry has promised to veto the ordinances if they reach his desk but the council could override that veto with six votes. The current makeup of the council is six Republicans and three Democrats, meaning Republicans could have their way unless there is intra-party opposition. A final vote could come as early as May 27th.

The two ordinances introduced by city council members John Crawford and Russ Jehl would eliminate collective bargaining for the city’s non-public safety employees or consolidate the city’s six unions into one bargaining unit. A third ordinance introduced by Crawford would eliminate collective bargaining for all city employees including police and fire fighters.  

The Republicans’ staunch anti-union message is permeating the political conversation in Fort Wayne and union officials are being demonized. The fate of the legislation may remain in limbo but Crawford is already claiming a media victory:

“I see no reason why city taxpayers should pay the union president of the PBA a full-time salary,” Crawford said.  “Along with benefits and a take-home car, only to do union work and no police work.  Why do the taxpayers pay that?  Even if we lose the vote, we have at least put the spotlight on them.”

Crawford isn’t wrong. News-Sentinel columnist Kevin Leininger has plugged his microphone into the echo chamber:

“Dealing with multiple unions only makes governing more difficult, and city money should pay for employees and public services, not union expenses and negotiations. And employees should be paid according to their merit and value, not a contract that treats everyone the same.”

Leininger added, “Regardless of the outcome, Crawford and Jehl have done the city a favor by pointing out the inefficiencies and conflicts of interest inherent in public-sector unions – problems that transcend pay.”

But conflict between the city and its unions is not limited to Crawford’s well-oiled smear machine.  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 723 has filed a lawsuit in Allen County Superior Court claiming the city isn’t even following the collective bargaining ordinance Crawford and co. want to do away with.  The claim stems from changes made by the city council last year and names Mayor Henry — despite his recent pro-bargaining pledge — along with five other city officials:

“They are obligated to bargain in good faith,” he said. “If they followed the rules of collective bargaining and the laws that govern the process there wouldn’t be a lawsuit.”

The court documents said last year city code changed to exempt seasonal employees from unions and changed some benefits, like sick time and health care. But, they were never negotiated into IBEW’s contract.

“They canceled the rest of our negotiation sessions we had scheduled for rest of the year so we never got a chance to negotiate anything. Once again, the collective bargaining ordinance requires the contract to stay in full force and effect through the process,” Getts said.

Getts reiterated that the issue is separate from and does not pertain to the current proposals before the council.

“It has nothing to do with the ordinances being introduced. This has been going on since last summer. The city backed us into a corner,” he said. “I’m doing nothing more than what I need to do to represent my members. If [the city] had agreed to keep negotiating, we wouldn’t have had to file a lawsuit.”

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