IBEW Local 723 files suit against Fort Wayne

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – One of the unions representing some Fort Wayne city employees filed a lawsuit against the city, Mayor Tom Henry and five other city officials, claiming the city didn’t follow it’s collective bargaining ordinance.

The suit submitted by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 723 was opened Friday, May 9 and filed Thursday, May 15 in Allen County Superior Court, according to court records. Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief 5-2-2014

Bruce Getts, the business manager for IBEW Local 723, said the litigation stems from contract negotiations that broke down between the union and the city last November.

Getts said after one meeting with city representatives, Fort Wayne’s city attorney sent him a letter saying they were terminating their agreement and canceling negotiations for the rest of the year. That, Getts said, is a violation of the city’s collective bargaining agreement.

“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.

The lawsuit is an injunction against those changes and would force the city to follow the collective bargaining ordinance and return to negotiations.

“In the private sector what they did would be illegal and we’d have help from the National Labor Relations Act. But in the public sector, we have to use the courts,” Getts said.

Last Tuesday, three ordinances were introduced to city council that would change or eliminate collective bargaining. Getts said this lawsuit is unrelated.

“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.”

Republican Councilman John Crawford (At-Large) said the lawsuit illustrates his point that collective bargaining is time consuming and expensive.

“Without collective bargaining there would be no lawsuit,” Crawford said. “They’re making some disputes that the city attorney didn’t give proper notice and she says she did and she’s a very good lawyer. That’s something that will be settled in courts. They make my case for me. You can’t make any changes, even small ones, under collective bargaining without having problems and resistance. Now because of the suit the city has to pay the expenses of defending the lawsuit.”

“The councilmen certainly think it hurts us. It gives them something to paint a negative light on. I don’t view it as being negative. We have an obligation in our contract to represent our members and that’s all that’s going on here,” Getts said.

The city council voted to introduce the ordinances on May 13 by a vote of 6-2 with one absent. Council will hear presentations for and against the measures at its meeting on May 20. A vote is expected on May 27. Mayor Tom Henry is expected to veto the ordinances if they pass out of council. A special session for a potential override vote would be scheduled either on June 3, 9 or 10, Crawford said.

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