Collective bargaining changes will bring big debate

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Three ordinances that will be introduced at the Fort Wayne city council meeting next Tuesday would change and repeal collective bargaining for nearly 1,300 city employees currently represented by unions. NewsChannel 15 first reported about the ordinances last week.

The two ordinances to be introduced by Republican councilmen John Crawford (At-Large) and Russ Jehl (2nd District) would repeal collective bargaining for civil city and civil utilities workers and replace it with one, consolidated union. Public safety employees would not be affected by these two ordinances. However, Crawford is introducing a third ordinance that would repeal collective bargaining for police officers and firefighters.

Follow the links below to see the ordinances:

BILL NO. G-14-05-15

BILL NO. G-14-05-16

BILL NO. G-14-05-17

There are 532 non-public safety employees represented by six unions. Three unions represent 751 public safety employees. The city also has around 517 non-unionized employees.

One proposed ordinance would do away with collective bargaining for non-public safety employees. A “plan b” to that would consolidate the six non-public safety unions into two bargaining units.  The third ordinance, sponsored by Crawford alone, would repeal collective bargaining for police and firefighters too.

“There is a whole long list of rules and lots of things you have to follow [for collective bargaining]. It’s expensive and time consuming and I don’t see the benefit to that,” Crawford said. “There were unions before the city’s collective bargaining ordinance in 1974. We can’t disband unions. The only thing we’re talking about it how we negotiate contracts.”

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE CURRENT COLLECTIVE BARGAINING ORDINANCE

“My first responsibility is to taxpayers and collective bargaining puts interests in unions over interests of the taxpayers,” Jehl said. “The community wants the most efficient and well-run government possible and collective bargaining doesn’t provide that.”

Union leaders are upset they weren’t contacted before the ordinances were written.

“I think some of the issues and concerns that have been represented to Crawford we can account for and discuss and show a different perspective and that makes for a more well-rounded opinion,” Jeremy Bush, president of Fort Wayne Professional Firefighters Local 124, said. “I just want to make sure all the things we’re both presenting are factual and what we’re representing to the people is objective.”

Crawford said he knew what the union positions would be, which is why he didn’t sit down with them first.

“There is no union that would ever say, ‘I’m okay with getting rid of collective bargaining,’” he said.

Crawford and Jehl said collective bargaining costs the city thousands of dollars to negotiate employee contracts.

“Our attorney is constantly negotiating internally. The city attorney’s been overloaded and had to outsourced $90,000 in outside attorney fees in the last 15 months. We know the six non-public safety unions, their union bank time has been nearly $200,000 is the last nine months alone. That doesn’t include public safety union bank times,” Jehl said.

Crawford added that the city pays around $200,000 for the PBA and fire union presidents. In a letter to the media Bush responded:

“Over the past several years the firefighters saw the need for and requested to have a full time position that would be dedicated to representing our membership and community. The President plays a large role in and is responsible for handling a multitude of jobs: safety measures, policy changes, department standards, hiring, disciplinary actions, promotions, and community outreach, just to name a few. The president’s position and union bank time cost the city between $45,000-$87,000 annually, depending on our manpower. This benefit is a part of our $35,000,000 budget and, in our opinion, the value to our department and city surpass the costs associated. These benefits are funded by monetary and non-monetary concessions given to the city through negotiations. It’s because of these items that we are able to raise considerable moneys for local charities and partner with local business and organizations to build a better community.” 

Crawford and Jehl also said the city union employees make around 10-20 percent more than their non-union county employee equals.

“It’s all about the taxpayer to me. This is not an attack on employees. We have good city employees and they do a good job. I just don’t see any reason why the city would want to grant collective bargaining privileges when it leads to higher than market-rate wages and benefits,” Crawford said.

CLICK HERE TO READ COUNCILMAN CRAWFORD’S RESEARCH ABOUT COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AND WHY HE WANTS CHANGE IN FORT WAYNE.

“It’s hard to compare us to other places,” Bush said. “I can find numbers that will substantiate both sides of it. I can find numbers that show we’re underpaid and I can find numbers that show we’re overpaid. If you compare the top 20 largest cities in the state, we’re number two and we’re not number two on the pay scale and we’re not looking for that.”

Mike Avila, who represents the Northeast Indiana Building Traders and AFLCIO, said collective bargaining actually leads to cost-savings for cities.

“Organized labor can produce lower costs because of their skill and labor relations between employees and the employer through the union. Third party unions bring higher service to the job site and cut down on the number of employees it takes to do a job because of efficiency and skill,” Avila said. “If there needs to be some conversation about ordinances, it needs to be a two-sided conversation. What I’ve seen so far, it’s been a one-sided conversation.”

Bush added that the issue of collective bargaining goes past wages and benefits.

“It’s about empowering employees to make sure they can be part of the process. If you take that away, they become at-will employees who fear sharing their feelings with their bosses because they could be fired for it,” he said. “The employees of this city are what work and operate and make us efficient. Stripping collective bargaining takes that voice away and will make the city less efficient.”

Jehl added the changes will “strip away barnacles that were added to the ship over time specifically through collective bargaining.”

“You have these things build up. We have birthday pay, an extra day’s pay. Perfect attendance pay, if you just show up for four months you get an extra day’s pay. Some of these things would go away without collective bargaining,” Crawford said.

Bush countered that those benefits were added in lieu of raises.

There is no federal or state law that requires local governments to engage in collective bargaining with employees. Indiana law gave employees the right to collective bargaining in 1980 and it was taken away in 2005, Crawford said.

Indiana Code has a “meet and confer” statute for public safety employees. Timothy McCaulay, IAFF Local 124′s attorney, said that law doesn’t apply to cities with collective bargaining ordinances prior to January 1, 2008. In a statement, McCaulay continued:

“Since the City of Fort Wayne had a comprehensive collective bargaining scheme established by ordinance in place as of January 1, 2013, the provisions of public safety “meet and confer” statute do not currently apply to the City of Fort Wayne.

Nothing in IC 36-8-22 prevents a municipality from repealing a collective bargaining ordinance adopted prior to January 1, 2008. In my opinion, however, should the City repeal the current collective bargaining ordinance, it would be subject to the provisions of IC 36-8-22 with respect to full-time public safety employees.  It would not be necessary, in this situation, for the City to adopt a “meet and confer” ordinance since the provisions of the state” meet and confer” statute would automatically apply. And the City would be required to recognize as the employees’ “exclusive recognized representative” for “meet and confer” purposes those employee organizations that the City recognized before January 1, 2008. That would include IAFF Local 124, the PBA, and the FOP, as well as whatever non-public safety union(s) that had been recognized as the representative(s) of the civilian employees of the police and fire departments.” Click here to read the entire statement.

Councilman Crawford told NewsChannel 15 that if the repeal of collective bargaining goes through in Fort Wayne, the state’s “meet and confer” statute would apply to Fort Wayne’s public safety employees. Crawford called the state’s law “collective bargaining light” and wouldn’t be as cumbersome as the city’s current ordinance.

The non-public safety union contracts were terminated January 1, 2014 and no new contracts have been negotiated yet, which is why Crawford said now is a good time to have this discussion. There are also no current contracts with the public safety unions, the media release from Crawford said. However, Jeremy Bush, president of IAFF Local 124, said the contracts with the fire department automatically renew every year until a new one is signed. Click here to see the wording in the contract.

All three introduced ordinances will be introduced on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Council meetings begin at 5:30 pm on the lower level of Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry.  Meetings are open to the public.

Democratic councilman Glynn Hines (6th District) said he plans to vote against introducing the ordinances.

“I’m vehemently opposed to any ordinance that would have a negative impact on collective bargaining,” Hines said. “This is not a positive approach for building a relationship between employees and the city.”

Democratic councilman John Shoaff (At-Large) said he will vote to allow the ordinances to be introduced but opposes the changes in them.

“A vote to introduce is very different than a vote to support. I believe in a healthy airing of the views, but I oppose the ordinances as I understand them,” Shoaff said.

Republican councilman Mitch Harper (4th District) said he will also not try to stop the ordinances from being introduced.

“I’m usually very unwilling to vote against introduction,” he said. “The collective bargaining ordinance has not been examined in years and this is an opportunity to do s

Tom Didier (R-3rd District) said he will vote to introduce the ordinances so he can learn more about collective bargaining and if it’s necessary in the public sector.

“There’s a lot of it I don’t understand yet and I want to know more about why we have collective bargaining for a public entity like this. I’m not trying to get people angry, I’m just trying to get a better understanding of it. There are so many things in place now by the government so workers aren’t misused or mistreated. Have we outgrown it? I don’t know,” Didier said.

Geoff Paddock (D-5th District) said last week he’s not in favor of changing collective bargaining but wanted to know more about what the ordinances said. Friday he said he’s still reviewing the proposed changes and wants a chance to speak with Crawford and Jehl before deciding if he’ll vote against introducing the ordinances.

Republican councilman Marty Bender (At-Large) had no comment. Tom Smith (R-1st District) didn’t return NewsChannel 15′s voicemail on Friday.

The ordinances only need five votes to be introduced. If they pass through council, Crawford said he expects Mayor Tom Henry to veto them. The council would then need six votes to override the mayor’s veto.

“I don’t know how it will end. It will be close. I’m never sure how anyone will vote until it’s over,” Crawford said. “Win, lose or draw, the idea is to get it done quickly. We still have to get those new contracts with either the old rules or new rules. Let’s have a discussion, make it philosophical and respectful and come up with what’s best for the city.”

The following numbers were sent in a media release from Crawford and Jehl:

1800—approximate number of City employees

6—number of non-public safety unions

8—number of non-public safety union contracts negotiated

532—number of non-public safety union members: civil city and city utilities

3—number of public safety unions and contracts negotiated

751—number of public safety union members: FOP, PBA, IAFF

517—approximate number of non-unionized City employees

Mayor Tom Henry released the following statement:

I continue to be encouraged by the positive momentum we’re experiencing in the City of Fort Wayne. I want to take this opportunity to recognize our city employees for their tremendous efforts in making our city a great place that’s positioned for positive investments now and in the future.

Unquestionably, city employees are extremely skilled, very committed, very diligent, and are some of the best in the Midwest. They have won one award after another and help make Fort Wayne the envy of the State of Indiana.

My staff and I work every day to improve the delivery and efficiency of city services with great results. Sometimes that’s meant the painful trimming of compensation and benefits to city workers, but we’ve found it’s been most effective to work in partnership with them to find new ideas and solutions to save taxpayer dollars and improve city services. Every winning organization in the world knows you need your employees to be motivated and treated with respect to achieve superior results.

Next week, City Council will consider ordinances that would possibly eliminate the ability for employees to participate in collective bargaining. I’m opposed to efforts that would take collective bargaining rights away from city employees.

Our top goal in Fort Wayne and all across northeast Indiana is to increase the number of high-wage, high-skill jobs in our region. We should be putting all our energies into achieving that goal and into the strategies that are yielding positive returns, not into a divisive, questionable idea that undermines our most important objective. Our focus in city government should not be on labor fights but on providing excellent services to support business and industry. Highly motivated employees are critical to doing so.

Simply put, I don’t think we deliver better, more affordable city services by attacking the people who deliver those services. I don’t think you win the future with last-century ideas that penalize the very people you’re depending on for new ideas and smarter solutions. I don’t think we build a better Fort Wayne by beating up on the employees who plowed snow for weeks on end without a day off, who run fearlessly into burning buildings, who turn on a dime to keep us safe. Take away a worker’s voice and you take away his or her dignity. That’s a poor message when our goal is to have the best and brightest on our team. Besides, it’s just plain wrong.

Through the efforts of all city staff, we’re leaders in engagement, innovation, and performance. Any attempts that could have a negative impact on our employees’ ability to perform their duties will not be supported by me and my administration.

Let’s win the future by working together.

 

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