Some question why union contracts weren’t brought to council

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – While collective bargaining could soon be no more for the six non-public safety Fort Wayne city unions, some are wondering why contracts that have been ratified for months haven’t been brought to city council.

“We’ve had this period where no contracts have gotten offered up to city council and [employees] need to ask the administration why they were being held up,” Councilman Mitch Harper (R-4th District) said. He raised that point during the discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting.

IAM Local 2569 (Machinists) has two ratified contracts waiting to go before city council. One was approved by union members in December 2013 and the other in February of this year.

“I was told that they weren’t bringing them down because a councilman who was getting ready to introduce the ordinance said that they would probably just get delayed anyway,” Tony Wickersham, the assistant directing business representative for IAM District Lodge 90, said. “I’m very frustrated. It seems like the contracts are being used to support a position that collective bargaining is cumbersome and collective bargaining is costing taxpayers. But, in reality, we probably did this negotiation more quickly than we’ve done past negotiations.”

CTH Local 414 (Teamsters) also ratified a contract in February and it has yet to be brought to city council for final approval.

“It’s really frustrating,” Julie Pedraza, the union steward for CTH Local 414, said. “I thought they were bargaining in good faith and it doesn’t seem to be so. I thought we had a good agreement.”

IAFF Local 124 president Jeremy Bush said it’s not ‘normal’ for it to take months for ratified contracts to go to council.

“I can’t speak to why that’s the case here, but that’s not normal, no,” he said.

Mayor Tom Henry said his administration is not holding them back.

“We have a number of contracts ready to be brought down and Councilman Crawford said if we brought them down he would hold them all. He would not take them in front of council. We have contracts ready. Unions ratified them. They’re sitting on the attorney’s desk because council would not talk about them because they had [collective bargaining ordinances] in front of them. If they had put this aside like we asked, they could have talked about the contracts,” Henry said. “Crawford said they wouldn’t discuss them and would put them on hold.”

Councilman John Crawford (R-At-Large) told NewsChannel 15 that council wouldn’t take any action on contracts until the veto override vote on June 24, but the collective bargaining ordinances have only been on the table since May 13. He didn’t try to block any contracts before that, he said.

“The administration can introduce anything they want and we’d have to deal with it at the table,” Crawford said.

“I think that’s a discussion the two of them had and perhaps the employees would benefit and fellow council members would have benefited if that conversation was revealed,” Harper said.

IAFF Local 124 just ratified its contract May 7 and the mayor, city attorney and public safety director already signed it.

“I’ve been given word that based on conversations with council and the mayor’s office, they’re postponing it going down to the table. I believe [council] would like the opportunity to vote on our contract and we should allow them to,” Bush said. “It’s entirely up to the mayor’s office to determine when contracts are carried down. Council could table it or vote it down, but it’s entirely up to the administration. Councilmen could make certain statements about their positions on contracts or where they’re at, but truly nobody really knows until those contracts get carried down and all nine councilmen have the opportunity to vote on it.”

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association finished negotiations with the city in April, but president Sofia Rosales-Scatena said they’re waiting on final wording from the city.

“We’ve had difficulty with the city administration in the last several years getting timely responses to negotiations. It’s been several weeks and our members are getting antsy. We’d like to get our contract ratified and be done with this for several years. We’re just waiting,” Rosales-Scatena said.

Other unions also said they’ve been waiting on the city’s response to continue or finalize contract negotiations.

“Everyone has their opinion. Our city attorney fights very hard for our administration and sometimes people don’t particularly care for the fact that individuals fight very hard for one way or another. You’ll have some people upset, but she was doing exactly what I asked her to do,” Mayor Henry said.

In his remarks at council on Tuesday, Harper also said he wanted the city attorney, Carol Helton, and the head of city utilities, Kumar Menon, to speak to council about the collective bargaining debate.

“It would have been good to hear from them because their views on collective bargaining and their views on city unions, they’ve given indication, are at some variance with the public position of the administration,” Harper said.

Harper would not elaborate further. NewsChannel 15’s request for an interview with Helton on Wednesday was denied.

After Tuesday’s meeting, the ordinance that repeals collective bargaining for the non-public safety unions goes to Mayor Henry’s desk. He said he plans to veto it via signature in a few days.

“Signing the veto makes a statement,” he said. “I strongly believe there’s a place for collective bargaining in our community. It’s been around 40 years. There’s no reason to change it. Our city employees are not overpaid and the benefits packages are not any better than any other large corporation. I don’t understand why council is moving in this direction. All it’s doing is taking away the voice of city employees.”

If Henry does veto the ordinance, council is expected to vote to override it on June 24. Six votes are required to override a veto.

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