FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Less than a year after Fort Wayne cut back city employee benefits, it looks like changes to the collective bargaining ordinance could be next up for discussion.
“We agreed with the [benefits]. We saw the necessity. We worked with them. We compromised and they adopted ordinances that changed benefits packages,” Jeremy Bush, president of Fort Wayne Professional Firefighters Local 124, said. “Now it seems like we’re going to go back on that and say, ‘We did that, but now we’re going to go a step further.’ So, it’s hard for me to understand.”
Nothing has been introduced to council yet, but NewsChannel 15 is told that Republican Councilmen John Crawford (R-At-large) and Russ Jehl (R-2nd) will present a proposed change to city code on May 13. Both declined to comment Friday.
“I am anxious to look at it and to talk to the sponsors of it and see their intentions. For all I know it would be a very good intent,” Geoff Paddock (D-5th) said. ” I would be reluctant to support anything that would take away additional benefits from our workers.”
There are around 1,300 city employees represented by nine unions. Bush estimated around 800 of those are in public safety, which is police and fire. It’s unclear exactly what the proposed changes to collective bargaining would be, but Bush said he’s heard about three possibilities. He said one option would repeal all collective bargaining. Another would repeal collective bargaining for non-public safety employees and leave public safety intact. A third option could combine all the non-public safety unions into one union and again, leave public safety as is.
“We’re trying to work with council. Just to propose an ordinance without coming to the unions and asking for opinions or advice just feels one-sided. We’re by no means in favor of any change, but the reality is we know we have to have the open communication. We don’t want to put off the image that we’re trying to fight everything across the board. We want to try to work collectively and try to find compromise. That’s what we have to offer,” Bush said.
Bruce Getz, the business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 723 said the unions had peacefully co-existed with the city for decades and it would be hard for one union to represent such different jobs.
“Making one big union would throw us against each other,” he said. “The city workers and the voice that they have through their unions are the last line of oversight for the city on behalf of the taxpayer.”
Without an actual proposal written up yet, it could be surmised that a motivator behind changing collective bargaining would be to save money.
“The employee’s ability to work with and negotiate with the city of Fort Wayne over the years has led to significant cost savings for the citizens of Fort Wayne. City employees have been vital in instrumental programs that have been developed and implemented, so [dissolving collective bargaining] would hurt the city as a whole,” Bush said.
Paddock said it’s hard to comment on rumors of an ordinance that hasn’t been presented yet, but he believes in labor unions and the labor movement.
“Because our workers are so well-trained and skilled, and a lot of that is because of labor unions, they can save tax payers money. There’s a lot of efficiency that we’ve been able to glean from having good workers,” Paddock said.
Mayor Tom Henry’s spokesman John Perlich said the administration couldn’t comment on any collective bargaining proposals until something official had been written up to be presented to council.
NewsChannel 15 also reached out to the other city councilmen on Friday. Republicans Mitch Harper (4th District) and Tom Smith (1st District) said they couldn’t comment yet because they haven’t seen any proposed ordinance changes yet. Republican Marty Bender (At-Large) declined to comment. Democrats John Shoaff (At-Large) and Glynn Hines (6th District) both said they strongly oppose any changes to collective bargaining. Republican Tom Didier (3rd District) said he’s been talking to union workers and plans to ask a lot of questions in the council meeting.
The unions are encouraging people to come to the meeting on May 13 at 5:30 p.m. in Citizens Square Room 35 to support collective bargaining. The nine unions that represent city employees are: Fort Wayne Professional Firefighters Local 124, Fraternal Order of Police, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Teamsters Local 414, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 723, IUOE Local 399, SEIU Local 1, AFSCME Local 1384 and International Association of Machinists Local 2569.