Union: Collective bargaining changes could affect public safety

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – In light of a controversial proposal that could eliminate collective bargaining for city unions, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) is speaking out about its potential impact on public safety.  A representative thinks it could deter quality police recruits because of less competitive wages and job security.

Council votes 6-2 to look at repealing collective bargaining

Nine city unions currently use collective bargaining for negotiations with the administration.  The three proposals by two Fort Wayne councilmen include:

  • Eliminating collective bargaining for all non-public safety employees
  • Consolidating the six non-public safety unions to two
  • Eliminating collective bargaining for public safety employees

Councilman John Crawford (R-At-Large) co-authored the proposals.  He thinks eliminating collective bargaining will, among other things, save taxpayers money.  He and Detective John Helmsing with the PBA don’t think wages will significantly drop if collective bargaining is eliminated.

A main item of contention between the two is that Crawford thinks collective bargaining leads to inflated wages for unions.  But a comprehensive PBA study ranks FWPD wages 34th in Indiana, despite Fort Wayne being the state’s second largest city.  The Indiana Public Retirement System ranks the Fort Wayne Police and Fire Departments 32nd in the state when it comes to salaries and pensions.

Crawford thinks the rankings don’t tell the full story.

“If you look at total compensation, which includes all the benefits we’re talking about, they’re first or second in the state,” Crawford said.

With the Fort Wayne Police Department currently aging and understaffed, new recruits are essential.  Helmsing fears without collective bargaining, the city administration would have too much control.

“If you have an administration that is concerned about public safety and values that, you’ll see maybe that they’ll invest in human capital,” Helmsing said.  “If that’s not one of their top priorities, you’ll see a continued downward trend in wages as we’ve seen over the last decade.”

Helmsing added that without collective bargaining, employees’ positions will be subject to the political will of the current administration.  He thinks that could create less job security, which could deter quality recruits.

“You could literally go from being a homicide detective one day to being a road officer the next with a very junior officer taking your role with no experience to do so,” Helmsing said.

But once again, Crawford disagrees.

“Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, collective bargaining for public unions, police and fire, is totally outlawed,” Crawford said.  “And their salaries and compensation are comparable to ours.”

Because of 2013’s uptick in violence and record-setting number of homicides, Helmsing thinks now is the wrong time to restructure FWPD negotiations.  He thinks the department should remain focused on criminal issues.

Crawford on the other hand thinks it’s a perfect time to re-think collective bargaining because he says the contracts with public safety unions are currently expired.

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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