Council votes 6-2 to look at repealing collective bargaining

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – City council voted 6-2 in favor of looking at repealing collective bargaining to city workers Tuesday night.  Council introduced three ordinances that would eliminate the process to nearly 1,300 city employees.

Councilmen Glynn Hines and Geoff Paddock voted no to the ordinances.  Council President Marty Bender was absent.  All other council members voted yes.

“Death by firing squad, death by lethal injecting, and death by hanging,” Hines said.  “All three of those options are death to the collective bargaining process.”

NewsChannel 15 has followed this hot topic for the past couple weeks.  Click here to read more about each ordinance and who introduced them.

At Tuesday’s meeting, more than a dozen people spoke during the public comment section.  Almost all of them said they were disappointed that council would even consider looking at eliminating collective bargaining.

“I pull weeds, I pick up condoms,” said Charla Hilton, who said she also picks up used diapers while working for the city’s parks.  “I pick up everything else, and you want to take away my pay.”

In all, about 400 people packed into the council chambers.  People overflowed into the hallway, and other monitors were on to allow people to watch from other rooms in the basement of Citizens Square.

“I ain’t never seen you come and do this to us,” Tyrone Woods, who said he worked with the city’s street department.  “It hurts because we got families.  We got kids in schools and in college.  You all dropped the bomb on us.”

Hines said it was difficult to hear workers and their stories.

“It was painful for me to listen to the employees share their pain based on the perception of the collective bargaining right, not privilege,” Hines said.

People who chose to spoke did so right next to councilman Russ Jehl, one of the authors of two of the three ordinances.  Councilman John Crawford introduced all three, and the only councilman to introduce the ordinance that would eliminate collective bargaining from public safety workers.

“Overall, the town was respectful,” said Jehl, who also said it was tough to hear their personal stories.  “I think that’s important, regardless of what side you are on.  I think Fort Wayne made itself proud tonight.”

Councilman John Shoaff approved introduction to all three ordinances.  “I’m a strong supporter of collective bargaining and by in large of unions,” he said.  “The reason my vote varies is because introduction is a way of giving people their right to express their views.  It’s our job to try to bring some resolution.”

While city workers and the unions that represent them were not able to stop the ordinances from being introduced, the next step is to show why eliminating collective bargaining would hurt the city.

“Our job is to now educate council on what our role with city government is and to work towards fiscal responsibility,” Detective John Helmsing, who represents the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said.

Helmsing said Fort Wayne police ranked 34th in the state when it comes to pay.  “We need to show how collective bargaining provides protection to our officers,” he said.  The agreement limits hours police can work and prevents them from being overworked.  “Our officers have to make split-second decisions.  That’s how critical our collective bargaining is and that’s why it’s important to us.”

Jeremy Bush, who represents the city’s firefighters, said he trusted council to make the right decision that’s best for the entire city, and hoped to see discussions continue with council.

“We just need to have good dialogue and conversations,” Bush said.  “We need to show why we see value in collective bargaining and an open line of communication between employees and employers.”

Crawford said council will keep public comment open for the next two weeks.  The ordinances still have to pass through committee and then through council.  The earliest a decision could come at council’s May 27 meeting.

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